AMONG the five countries with permanent migration programs — the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand — it is Australia that has the most number of visa subclasses, particularly in the work to residency sector. Covid-19 virtually stopped the flow but increased processing time. Now the visa backlog is close to a million — 914,000 applications for permanent and temporary visas as of August 12, according to immigration data seen by Reuters.

Friday last week, Australia's Home Affairs minister, Clare O'Neil, announced the lifting of the country's migration cap, offering the highest planned migrant intake in over a decade: 195,000 places to include "thousands more" engineers and nurses not just to ease the backlog but to address critical workforce shortages.

About 34,000 places of the 195,000 caps for the 2022-2023 financial year will be in the regions with 31,000 (up from 11,000) to the states and territories under the nomination scheme.

Applicants already in Australia still hold the advantage: international students who had completed the required two-year study requirement and skilled workers sponsored by employers under the various temporary visa subclasses, including the temporary skilled shortage visas.

O'Neil confirms the government's commitment to "let international student graduates stay and work in Australia for longer."

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Workers sponsored by state authorities do not have to be tied to a particular employer, but they do have to be aged under 45 years old. There is also no guarantee of a job in the state, so they must find their own position.

Successful applicants are given a permanent visa allowing them to live in the country indefinitely in the case of the skilled nominated subclass 190 visa, or provided with a pathway to become a permanent resident after working in regional areas as part of the skilled work regional (provisional) (subclass 491) visa. A small number of visas are also available for those who own their own business.

How many places are there?

Before the increased migration program level announcement, The Department of Home Affairs has made almost 50,000 state nominated visas available in 2022, with New South Wales allocated the highest amount.

After consultation with states and territories, the nomination levels have been allocated for 2022-2023 (see Table 1).

TABLE 1

To be nominated, a skilled worker's occupation must be on the specific state or territories list.

Overseas applicants should look beyond the Northern Territory since NT does not accept applications from skilled workers living overseas.

In contrast, the Tasmanian government says all occupations on the Commonwealth's broader skills list would be eligible for consideration for the substantial number of expected remaining places.

Anyone who has lived in Tasmania for at least two to three years may also be considered for

Processing backlog

In last week's two-day summit attended by politicians, unions, business and community leaders, Home Affairs officials told the attendees of the government's planned intake increase while speeding up visa processing.

The backlog continued to pile up as an increasing number of new applications were added to the considerable number of applications in the pipeline but were not actively processed due to the Covid-19 border closure period.

Before the pandemic, the average processing time was 1 to 2 weeks. The wait stretched to two months or more during the lockdowns, travel restrictions in and out of states resulting in acute staff shortages to work on the pending applications. (See Table 2)

TABLE 2

Who PH workers compete with

The 2020-21 migration program showed permanent migrant admission total of 160,052. While this was almost 20,000 more than in 2019-2020 output, only 79,620 were under the skilled stream, the "smallest ever since 2004-2005."

And 71 percent of the visas granted were for those already in Australia, which resulted in a significant decline in temporary entrants in Australia.

Source countries

In Australia's 2021-2022 program year, China's permanent migrant admission of 22,207, edged out India's 21,790 as Australia's main source of immigrants.

The US and Hong Kong followed with 4,780 and 4,312, respectively. The Philippines came in fourth with 11,058 and Vietnam close behind at 8,120.

The 2022-2023 Migration Program seeks to boost Australia's economic recovery and drive social cohesion outcomes in the post-pandemic environment. The figures were before the announcement of the 192,000 increases in visa allocation. (See Table 3)

Skilled worker applicants from the Philippines may look forward to migrating to Australia, initially as temporary workers in regions (with shorter visa processing) particularly as employer-sponsored, then transition from the provisional status to permanent residency by pursuing their options onshore.

Whether pursuing temporary or permanent visas, a skilled worker needs to have assessment of skills and must be less than 45 years of age when invited to apply for permanent residency.

For those going for residency as skilled independent (without sponsorship or nomination), the minimum points required is 67. Based on the most current (and recent invitation draws), a score of 85 to 90 assures invitation — over a 9 to 57 month waiting period.

More or less.