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Some changes....A number of potentially significant changes to the Australian migration regime have been announced Some were announced in the Federal Budget for 2006-07, and there are also some changes announced in the 2005-06 budget which have still to be implemented. Below is a summary of some of the changes which have been announced:

Skilled Designated Area Sponsored (2005-06 Budget)

Currently, grant of a designated area skilled visa confers permanent resident status. There is no points test for a designated area skilled visa. An Australian relative who has lived in a designated area for the last 12 months must sponsor the application, but there is no obligation for the visa applicants to settle in a designated area.

The proposed changes will mean that a temporary visa, similar to an SIR visa, will be granted. One of the conditions on the visa will be that the holder lives in the same designated area as the sponsor. In order to look at one of the designated "pathways" to permanent residence, the visa holder will need to show that they have lived and worked in the designated area.

The introduction date for this was originally announced to be 1 July 2006. However, at this stage, we have no confirmation that the new regulations have been drafted.

Interdependent Partners (Minister Press Release 6/3/06)

Under Australian Immigration Law, same-sex couples are not considered to be members of the same "family unit". Accordingly, it is not possible for same-sex couples to jointly apply for migration to Australia, or for temporary visas. As a result, many applicants end up applying for skilled migration for one partner, then sponsoring the other partner for an interdependency visa once the skilled visa is granted. This causes significant delay in the grant of permanent residence for the 2nd partner, because there is generally a 2-year waiting period for PR when applying for partner migration.

Minister Vanstone announced on the 6th of March 2006 that interdependent partners will be able to make combined applications for 457 (Business Long Stay) visas from the 1st of July 2006. She also announced that combined applications will be possible for general skilled migration, but at this stage, the introduction date for this is not clear.

English (2006-07 budget)

In response to the Birrell Report on General Skilled Migration, some changes have been announced to the general skilled stream. The changes are particularly significant in relation to English.

Currently, applicants must get at least 5 in each of the 4 components of IELTS to meet the threshold requirements for most general skilled subclasses. The minimum score will most likely be raised to 6 in of the 4 components of IELTS. More points awarded for perfect English.

These changes, in combination with recent policy changes to the waiver of English language ability, will mean that applicants from countries other than the UK, USA, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand will find it more difficult to qualify for general skilled migration. Applicants who hold passports from one of these 5 countries and who are native English speakers obtain a waiver of English language testing. All others will need to sit for the IELTS and meet the higher pass mark. This will place even more demand on the existing IELTS testing centres - it is already taking several months to book into an IELTS test in Australia.

Work Experience (2006-07 budget)

Points are currently awarded in General Skilled Migration for having 3 of the last 4 years of skilled work experience. This is referred to as "Specific Work Experience".

Changes have been announced for applicants who have a significant amount of skilled work experience, over and above that required for Specific Work Experience. At the time of writing, it is not certain how much work experience will need to be demonstrated to qualify for the additional points.

International Students (2006-07 budget)

A new 12-month visa is to be introduced for international students who have completed their courses in Australia. This may be similar to a working holiday or work and holiday visa.

The implication from the statement in the Budget Announcement is that international students may no longer be able to apply for residence immediately after completing their courses in Australia. This would be in line with the recommendations in the Birrell Report, which finds that many international students do not in fact end up working in their skilled occupations in Australia.

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