Migration Program planning levels and priority processing arrangements

Every year the Australian Government sets the number of places, otherwise known as planning levels, in the permanent migration program. The number of places allocated takes into account the current economic climate and feedback from consultations with the Australian community.

Within the skill stream of the permanent migration program, there are a number of different visa categories targeted to meet the diverse needs of Australia’s labour market.  The government also allocates annually a set number of visa places to each of the following categories:

  • skilled independent
  • skilled Australian sponsored
  • employer sponsored, and
  • state and territory sponsored

The planning levels can be varied by the government in response to economic and other factors. Delivering the migration program requires careful management. This is where it’s important to understand the relationship between the planning levels and priority processing arrangements  for skilled migration visa applications.

Priority processing is a tool, available to government, to assist managing the order in which applications are granted. We have blogged previously about the government’s priority processing direction, where visa applications are placed in one of five priority processing groups.

Applications in priority group 1 are allocated before applications in priority group 2, and so on, until the set planning level for each specific skilled visa category is met.

In the situation where set annual planning levels are met in a particular skilled migration category within a 12 month period, the department is obliged to temporarily suspend allocating applications in this category until the next program year, irrespective of where applicants are placed in the priority processing direction.

For example, in this (2011-2012) program year there has been a lower number of applications lodged under a state migration plan (priority group 3) than anticipated when government originally set the planning levels. To meet the set levels for this part of the program we have allocated some of the priority group 5 applications in greater numbers.

These are the priority group 5 applications that were lodged by onshore and offshore applicants who were nominated by a state or territory government before state migration plans were introduced. These applications are placed in priority group 5 as they do not have a nominated occupation on the skilled occupation list.

It may also be necessary to limit the allocation of visa applications in the skilled Australian sponsored categories this program year, because there are only a few places remaining in this visa category. We will continue to update the allocation dates for skilled visa applications on the department’s website and encourage applicants to regularly check the page, which is updated fortnightly. We have also updated information on our website about the processing of priority group 5 applications.

If you have any questions or comments please post below.

Processing Priority Group 5 applications

In August we published information on this blog about the processing of general skilled migration applications, and new information available on the department’s website to assist applicants.

The new webpage has been very popular, and it’s great to see it being used by people to check the progress of their visa applications.

That earlier post also explained why skilled migration applications are processed in a particular order (in technical terms, the order set by a Ministerial Direction on processing priority) and that we expected to see progress for applicants who had been waiting the longest for their visas to be processed.

Today’s update is to let you know that shortly we will begin to allocate applications in the Priority Group 5 category to case officers. The oldest applications made in Australia will be processed before those made outside of Australia. We have published detailed information about how the processing of these applications will happen on our website.

While we can’t tell every applicant exactly when their case will be allocated, this progress is positive news for all applicants. When your application is allocated to a case officer, the department will contact you. If you haven’t heard from us, you should keep checking the department’s website for updates to the allocation dates for general skilled migration visas.

The number of Priority Group 5 applications processed will depend on how many applications are lodged in higher priority groups and other factors including any change in the size of the Migration Program, so we can’t give you an exact timeframe when all applications will be processed.

Please continue to check the department’s website for information about the date of lodgement that applications are currently being allocated to case officers.

Processing information for skilled migration applicants

The department has recently added more information to the website for people who have made a skilled migration application.

This new information lets applicants know where we are up to in processing applications. It provides the date of lodgement for applications that are currently being allocated to case officers.  Our skilled migration processing centre plans to update this information every fortnight. We hope that visa applicants will find this a useful resource.  It also links to information about the different processing priority categories for skilled migration.

Our processing centres are required to process skilled migration applications in the order set by a Ministerial Direction on processing priority.  For some people, this means their applications are allocated within a few weeks of applying.  For others, this means a longer wait.  The reality is that over the last few years with more people applying to migrate to Australia than there are places in the program, longer waiting times are inevitable.

We know that some applicants are disappointed that the department is unable to process their applications more quickly.  But it is important to remember the skilled migration program is focussed on Australia’s skills needs.  This is why the direction requires that we must first process those applications with the skills and attributes most in need, and not simply process in the order that applications are received.

The positive news is that the reforms to skilled migration mean that we now have a better match between the skills of new visa applicants and those needed by the Australian labour market. The reforms have also resulted in a flow of new applications which will enable us to reduce the visa application pipeline which has built up over the past few years.   So, given the number of skilled migration places currently available, we expect to see an improvement in processing times and also some movement in the category 5 caseload in 2011-12.