Skilled visa approval backlog causing heartache
A large number of valid applications for permanent residency have been stopped in their tracks because the Commonwealth Government has prioritised some visa categories above others, migration agents say.
Thousands of people are left to wonder when, if ever, their applications will be processed since priority processing was introduced.
Up until 2009 all skilled migrant applications were dealt with purely in the order that they were lodged in, regardless of the type of visa.
However, in 2008 Australia’s skilled migrant program was under threat of being overwhelmed due to a huge backlog in valid applications for permanent residency.
The build-up was due to the Howard government linking permanent residency to a successful course of Australian study, including vocational qualifications.
The Rudd government ‘solved’ the problem by introducing priority processing, in accordance with what the immigration minister considers appropriate. The minister is able to modify these priorities when industry’s demand for skills or the economic climate changes.
Those that have first and second priority are applicants that have been nominated by employers under the Regional Sponsored Migrant Scheme and the Employer Nomination Scheme.
Third ranking are applicants endorsed by a state or territory government for a Skilled Nominated Visa. All applicants in these three categories are told by the government that their cases will be resolved in under a year.
Fourth priority goes to those that have a qualification on the government’s Skilled Occupation List and are told to wait up to eighteen months for a response.
Assessments of a fifth group will only commence “when all cases in priority groups 1–4 are finalised.” This means that applicants are stuck in limbo with no guidance on how long they’ll be floating for.
However, all of group five applications are valid and have ticked the boxes for qualifications, work experience, language proficiency, health status and character.
Immigration department statistics show that 20,000 people from group five have been waiting for over four years to hear either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on their permanent residency applications.
Almost 3000 of those applicants have already created a life for themselves in Australia and are trying to establish a future here.
Many live on bridging visas where they are allowed to work but a large number can’t advance their careers due to companies’ refusals to hire staff on temporary visas.
In the jobs that they are able to obtain, they pay Australian taxes for several years yet can’t access Medicare or any government benefits.
Grant Williams, a Sydney-based migration agent with twenty years’ experience, has seen how difficult life can be for members of group five. He writes in his blog about how he views the current policies for assessing group 5 as illogical.
“Their skills and the notion of whether we need them now or not are no longer the relevant question as they are cemented into our workforce and labour market,” writes Mr Williams.
All applicants must pay a small fortune through cost of skill certification, health checks, police clearance, language tests, migration agent’s fee and thousands in the government’s visa charge.
But their problems reach far beyond just money.
Small inconveniences constantly affect day-to-day life, such as having to annually renew their driver’s license, or inability to get a mobile phone plan.
Larger obstacles are made much more difficult, if not impossible to overcome. Buying a house, investing or even starting a family is filled with complications and nuisances.
“The unwritten policy I am certain is to attempt to ‘frustrate’ them out of existence,” writes Williams.
“The Government and its Immigration Department created this problem, why is it that they are totally incapable of solving it.”
AMES Staff Writer