What is behind the longer processing times for the Subclass 189 Skilled Independent Visa.
In a further development, the Government has announced that there will be 2,000 extra places allocated to the new regional visas (which are commencing on 16 November 2019), bringing the total to 25,000 this year. Although this has not yet been confirmed, it is expected that these additional places will be re-allocated from those originally set aside for the Subclass 189 Skilled Independent visa, making it harder still to secure one of these visas.
The Subclass 189 Skilled Independent Visa is generally regarded to be the most attractive skilled visa currently available. It grants the visa holder immediate permanent residence in Australia, and, because it is not an employer or state sponsored visa, it does not impose any obligations on the visa holder following visa grant. For instance, there is no requirement to stay with any one employer, or to live in a designated regional area for a specified minimum period (which applies to certain other skilled visa classes). This makes it a popular choice for those seeking permanent residence in Australia (subclass 189 visa grants accounted for 31% of the overall skilled visas granted in the 2018/19 migration programme year).
High demand coupled with a limited number of places available for the subclass 189 visa has resulted in a highly competitive application process, and it continues to get even tougher as the Government adjusts its policy settings and priorities.
One of the central aspects of applying for a subclass 189 visa involves the points test. Prospective applicants must first achieve a prescribed minimum points score in order to lodge an Expression of Interest (EOI) (this is set by the migration regulations and is subject to change). The current points score required is 65 points. What we are seeing, however, is that achieving this base line score is no longer enough to secure an invitation to apply for the subclass 189 visa. To illustrate, in the latest Skill Select invitation round which took place on 11th October 2019, EOI applicants needed to score at least 80 points to secure an invitation (and even higher for some occupations such as accountants and certain engineering and ICT professionals, where the minimum points score required ranged from between 80 and 90 points). Although it was a welcome development to see more invitations issued (1,500 compared with the previous round of only 100), this high points score, coupled with the limited number of invitations on offer, has invariably led to a slowing down of the process, and this is even before we get to the actual visa application stage. On that front, the news is not much better. Subclass 189 visa applications are now taking, on average, between 18 and 33 months to process (for 75-90% of applications lodged).
So, what is behind this? As the Government has not specifically said why this is the case, we can examine recent announcements and other relevant data which has been released to gain some insight into why this might be happening.
What we do know is that the Government is currently focused on achieving two key outcomes in immigration. Firstly, there is a concentrated effort to encourage more regional migration. This has translated into a greater push to grant more regional visas (both temporary and permanent). This is illustrated with the introduction of two new provisional skilled regional visas from next month (on 16th November 2019), which are specifically targeted to meet this need, and for which 23,000 places have been allocated in the current migration programme year (2019/20). To qualify for the permanent residence visa after three years, provisional regional visa holders will be required to demonstrate that they have lived, worked (and where applicable, studied) in a designated regional area of Australia (this being one of the key requirements to qualify for the new permanent residence skilled regional visa, which will be introduced from 16 November 2022).
The Government is also actively engaged in expanding the Working Holiday Maker (WHV) temporary visa programme, progressively adding more countries and increasing the annual caps recently (there are currently 44 eligible countries, and the Government is in talks with 13 others as it seeks to expand the WHV programme). This too is a targeted approach to increase workers in regional Australia (although this visa does not provide a pathway to permanent residence as is the case with the new regional skilled visas discussed above).
Secondly, the Government has reduced the permanent/provisional migration cap from 190,000 to 160,000 for this year. This has seen a reduction in the number of places available for subclass 189 visa grants, from 34,247 visas granted in 2018/19, to a planning level of 18,652 places in 2019/20. This is a significant fall, with 15,595 fewer places available (or 46% less compared with last year).
Thirdly, there are a significant number of undecided applications sitting in the pipeline which are yet to be processed. With the need to prioritise regional visa grants, are Subclass 187 Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visa applications (which will close from 16th November 2019 to certain applicants) ‘jumping the queue’ and further delaying the processing of subclass 189 visas? This can be evidenced by the 44% increase in the number of RSMS visas granted in 2018/19 (when 8,987 were granted) compared with the previous year (6,221 grants in 2017/18). Additionally, could processing of subclass 189 visas be actively slowing down in anticipation of the new regional skilled visas to be introduced in November?
What can we deduce from this data? What is this telling us if we read between the lines?
From our assessment, in the Government’s efforts to reduce the migration intake this year, it may be slowing down processing of the less desirable visas (which includes the subclass 189 visa, with its non-regional focus) and is instead concentrating on the regional-type visas. A slower process means fewer visa grants for the subclass 189 visa, which is what the Government is ultimately looking to achieve this year. This may go so way to explaining the delays currently being experienced. It may also, at least in part, explain the higher points scores and fewer invitations being issued for the subclass 189 visa. We are uncertain as to whether subclass 189 visas in regional areas are being prioritised, which is possible given the Government’s regional focus.
Hopefully we can glean more information on the current state of affairs when the Department releases its annual report in December this year. We also await the release of the next round Skill Select results for invitations issued in November 2019 to see whether this trend continues this month. Watch this space for further information as developments come to hand.
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The Hon David Coleman MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. Media Release. Migration program focusing on regional Australia. Thursday, 05 September 2019.
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