Harris Wake comments to the UK Telegraph newspaper about the upcoming changes to General Skilled Migration and the proposed EOI scheme.

Recently we were asked to provide some comments to the the Telegraph newspaper in the UK regarding the 1 July 2011 General Skilled Migration changes and the proposed introduction of the expression of interest scheme in 2012.

Here are the questions and what we said:

1) What are the major ways the new system, to be implemented on July 1, differs from the old?

The age limit has been increased from 45 to 50 and points are allocated differently. Points are no longer awarded for occupations, but they can be claimed for non-Australian qualifications; also, more points are now available for work experience.

2) What has been the general response to the changes? What do you think of them?

The changes are more beneficial to some than others: in particular, it’s our opinion that the new points system favours tertiary educated professionals rather than tradespeople. The most obvious response to the changes has been a rush to have visa applications submitted prior to the 1st of July for those who will no-longer be eligible under the new scheme.
The increased volume of applications also appears to have created difficulties getting skills assessments and state/territory sponsorships completed in time. In some cases, processing times have increased. Unfortunately, as a result, some who will be ineligible under the new scheme will not be able to apply before the new changes come into effect because their skills assessment or state/territory sponsorship cannot be completed in time.
It seems likely that in future it will be more difficult for individuals to enter independently; possibly further compounding the trade skill shortage Australia is suffering. Skilled tradespeople who are seeking to emigrate are likely to consider other countries such as New Zealand and Canada as alternative destinations.

Next year...

1) Is this model really based on New Zealand's?

As both an Australian Registered Migration Agent and a fully licensed New Zealand Immigration Adviser I am able to compare the two systems: from the details released so far, it is very similar to the New Zealand Expression of Interest model. However, there will be differences as there will almost certainly be some additional process to allow for state and territory sponsorship, which is not an issue that has to be addressed in New Zealand.

2) Why are they implementing it - and do you think it is a good idea?

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. The Australian government will have greater control on the selection process and who they grant visas to. 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; there are many different points of view on how this should play out. It seems likely that in future we will have a poorer idea as to why certain individuals are granted visas and others are not.

3) Who will it benefit, and who will it not?

The important difference that the new policy creates is the ability for the government to cherry pick from the applicants without explaining their reasons or justifying their choices up-front. The fairness or appropriateness of the selection policy will be subject to reviews within the government but in most cases this process will be opaque to applicants and the public in general. As an applicant who has your expression of interest persistently ignored, you will never receive an explanation of why – nor will the government need to explain its decisions to an individual applicant.
Currently, the government can regulate numbers of visas granted for any particular visa type, which arguably is sufficient power to enact any non-discriminatory policy. In the future, their powers will extend beyond this.
Any political interest group that is able to lobby effectively will be able to benefit under the new scheme: with greater government control of individual visa awards there is more opportunity for lobbyists to influence exactly which individuals will be allowed to enter. Whether this lobbying is performed most effectively by one industry or another, or by other groups with political influence, will determine who benefits most.
Of course, the government of the day gains more power as a result of the changes, as they have more ability to respond to popular pressure, interest groups or both. This certainly gives them more freedom to enact their policy, whatever that might be. Whether this benefits Australia in the long term will depend on the quality of that policy.