Chief among the changes are an update to the list of approved occupations for skilled migration, and a new points test which applicants will need to pass in order to be considered for a visa.
Thirteen occupations, including environmental health officer, retail pharmacist, barrister and health and safety advisor have been added to the list, while four – optometrist, orthoptist, panel beater and vehicle painter – have been removed.
The new test awards more weight to proficiency in English and to high-level qualifications as opposed to trade skills, with points no longer given for having a specific occupation.
The age limit for skilled migrants has also been raised, from 45 to 50.
According to Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), the changes are “designed to select the best and brightest skilled migrants”, but some organisations have criticised the DIAC for what they say is a clear prioritisation of migrants from English-speaking countries.
Vasan Srinivasan, president of theFederation of Indian Associations of Victoria (FIAV), said that the insistence on a high level of English ability was like imposing “an iron curtain” on migration, and that that it was more important to find “skilled individuals… who have functional English language skills”.
The changes are only the first step in a major overhaul of Australia’s skilled migration programme, with more adjustments planned for next year. On July 1 2012, the system will be moving to an “expression of interest” model more akin to New Zealand’s system, which will require potential immigrants to lodge a request to be “invited” to make an application for a visa. The government says the change will make the system easier to manage, but critics claim it could easily lead to unfair discrimination.
Catherine Burnett, a spokesperson for the migration consultancy Migration Matters, said: “Currently under the General Skilled Migration System, if you meet the legislative criteria you are entitled to the grant of a visa. With an expression of interest scheme, this removes that impartiality and also removes any possibility of appealing if your expression of interest is not selected.
“This is certainly politically expedient for a government under pressure from several directions regarding immigration, but whether this is ultimately of any benefit to Australia is a complex issue.”
The Australian government plans to allow around 126,000 people to settle in Australia under the skilled migration programme during 2011-12: around two thirds of the overall migrant intake.