By Aristotle Paipetis *
Australia is widely recognized as a premier migration destination. This is most likely due to its abundance of employment opportunities, excellent education and health systems, stable economic and political environment, high average salaries and multiculturalism, coupled with a superb climate, all combining to create an ideal lifestyle.
Australia’s popularity is reflected in the increasing numbers of people that have migrated to Australia since the 2000s. Statistics from the Australian Department of Immigration & Citizenship (DIAC) show that from 2002, an average of 130,000 people migrate to Australia each year.
In fact, for some types of migration, these figures increased to the extent that DIAC has had to cap the number of visas granted in specific categories in a given year. An indication of the importance of international migration to Australia is that since 2005 immigration has made up just over half of the total growth in Australia's population.
Australian Migration Program
Australia’s migration program provides many different options and solutions for people wishing to enter or remain in Australia, whatever their personal circumstances.
Generally speaking, the Australian immigration system is designed to attract skilled permanent migrants, skilled temporary workers and businesspeople. It also accommodates family members and partners of Australians, international students, other temporary visitors and people in need of Australia’s protection (for example refugees).
Since the 1980s, the focus of Australia’s migration program has been on skilled migration -- in particular to Australia’s regional areas. For example, in 2004-05, record numbers of skilled migrants were granted visas, accounting for about 60 percent of the entire migration program.
In the current financial year, the Australian government has allocated a total of 185,000 places in the migration program. According to DIAC, this is made up of 125,850 places in the skilled stream, 58,600 places in the family stream and 550 special eligibility places.
Greek migration to Australia
Over the past few years, the largest source countries contributing to Australia’s skilled migration stream have been China, the United Kingdom and India.
However, there are also suggestions that interest in Australian skilled migration is increasing among Europeans, and particularly among Greek citizens.
Anecdotal evidence from the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne & Victoria nonprofit organization links the increased interest in migration of Greek citizens to Australia to the Greek economic crisis, which has led many to look for opportunities abroad. Earlier this year, representatives of the Greek community in Victoria met Federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen MP to discuss this interest and to discuss recommendations to encourage migration from Greece to Australia.
However, according to Victoria newspaper The Age, a DIAC spokesperson has said that this increased interest has not translated into increased visa applications to date. This is reflected in available migration data. The number of Greek citizens who have settled in Australia has remained fairly constant in the past decade, hovering around approximately 100 people per year. In the 2009-10 financial year, only 87 Greek-passport holders settled in Australia.
Despite this, the number of Greek-born and Greek-identifying people in Australia remains fairly large. It is notable that on June 30, 2009, Australia’s estimated resident population comprised approximately 128,610 Greek-born people.
According to the 2006 census, Australians with Greek ancestry number approximately 365,147. This makes Greeks the seventh-largest ethnic group in Australia.
In addition, it is also significant that Greek-born residents of Australia have the highest citizenship rate, with 97 percent of Greek-born people who have been resident in Australia for two years or more going on to acquire Australian citizenship.
Immigration options for Greek citizens
For Greek citizens who are interested in living and working in Australia, the most popular pathways are the following:
- General Skilled Migration (GSM) -- a points-based scheme
- Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) -- an employer-linked program
- Regional Skilled Migration Scheme (RSMS) -- a regional employer-linked program
- Subclass 457 Visa Scheme -- an employer-sponsored temporary work visa
- Partner visas for married spouses and de facto partners of Australian citizens or permanent residents
General eligibility requirements across all of these schemes include demonstrating that health and character requirements are satisfied.
General Skilled Migration (GSM)
GSM leads to the granting of permanent residency and is available to people under the age of 50 who are skilled in occupations for which there is a shortage in Australia.
The skilled occupations include (but are not limited to) accountants, engineers, teachers, doctors, nurses, information and communication technology (ICT) professionals and various trades.
A list of skilled occupations under GSM may be found at http://www.immi.gov.au/skilled/_pdf/sol-schedule1.pdf.
The general criteria under GSM for two visas that lead directly to permanent residency, namely Skilled Independent subclass 175 and Skilled Sponsored subclass 176, are as follows:
- Less than 50 years of age at the time of application
- Meet health and character standards and lodge a valid application
- Successful skills assessment in a “skilled occupation”
- Competent English language skills
- Achieve the pass mark in the points test (see below for points test factors)
- Nominated by a state/territory government (only for subclass 176)
- Work experience in a skilled occupation for 12 out of the 24 months immediately before application is lodged
- Age: 0-25 points. Points allocated vary depending on age between 18-49
- English: 0-20 points. Points allocated vary depending on English language skills
- Recognized qualifications: 0-20 points. Points allocated vary according to level of qualification held (PhD, bachelor/masters degree, diploma or overseas recognized apprenticeship)
- Australian study: 5 points. Minimum of two years’ study completed in Australia
- Australian regional study: 5 points. Diploma-level qualification completed over at least two academic years while living and studying in regional Australia
- Professional year: 5 points. Completion of a recognized Professional Year program which combines formal learning and workplace experience
- Work experience: 0-20 points. Points allocated vary depending on number of years in Australian or overseas skilled employment in nominated occupation or a closely related occupation undertaken in the past 10 years
- Language skills: 5 points. Accreditation as a paraprofessional (level 2) translator/interpreter in an Australian community language (which includes Greek)
- Spouse/Partner skills: 5 points. Applicant’s spouse/de factor partner is under 50, has competent English, is successfully assessed in nominated occupation and has work experience in closely related area for 12 of past 24 months, or completed a two-year qualification within the six months preceding lodgement of application
- Sponsorship: 5 or 10 points. Nomination by a state or territory government, or by an eligible relative to a regional area
Migration under ENS is available for people who have an Australian employer willing to nominate them in an eligible occupation.
If successful, applicants under ENS are granted permanent residency.
An ENS application involves two steps:
Step 1: Nomination requirements -- The Australian employer will need to show:
- Are of good standing and have a satisfactory record of compliance with immigration law and workplace relations law
- Have a need for a paid employee, are located in Australia and lawfully operating in Australia
- Satisfactory record of training Australian employees
- Position to be filled is for a “highly skilled occupation,” that is on the ENS Occupation List found at http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2011L01228
- Position is full-time, for at least three years and does not exclude the possibility for renewal
- Position meets minimum salary levels for that occupation (that is, base salary of $67,556 for information and communication technology ICT occupations or $49,330 for non-ICT occupations)
- Position attracts terms and conditions of employment that are in accordance with Australian standards
- Have the skills required for the position and meets any licensing or registration requirements
- Under 45 years old (unless exceptional circumstances apply)
- Meet Vocational English language standards (unless exceptional circumstances apply)
- Meet all health and character requirements
Under RSMS, applicants are nominated by employers in regional Australia for positions that cannot be filled from the local labor market.
“Regional” includes all areas of Australia except Brisbane, Gold Coast, Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong and Melbourne.
An RSMS application involves three steps:
Step 1: Nomination certification requirements -- The Australian employer will need to show to a Regional Certifying Body (RCB):
- Position is a genuine full-time position
- Unless nomination is exceptional, position requires appointment of a person who has qualifications equivalent to at least an Australian diploma or trade qualification
- Operating in a regional area and position is located in a regional area
- Position is available for at least two consecutive years
- Position cannot be reasonably filled locally
- Terms of employment are no less than the standard for wages and working conditions under Australian industrial laws
- Nomination has been certified by the relevant RCB
- Nominating business complies with relevant Australian laws and has a satisfactory record of meeting immigration laws (if applicable)
- Nominated position is in a business operated by the employer
- Position is being remunerated in accordance with relevant workplace legislation and awards
- Relevant qualifications for the nominated position
- Meet any mandatory licensing, registration or professional membership requirements
- Offered a full-time position for a fixed term of at least two years
- Under 45 years old (unless exceptional circumstances apply)
- Functional English language ability (unless exceptional circumstances apply)
- Meet all health and character requirements
The 457 Scheme allows people who are sponsored by an eligible employer to work and live in Australia for up to four years.
The steps involved in applying for a 457 visa are as follows:
Step 1: Sponsorship requirements -- The Australian employer will need to show:
- Be a lawfully and actively operating business
- Have no “adverse information” known to DIAC
- Abide by sponsorship obligations
- Comply with benchmarks for training
- Strong record of, and demonstrated commitment to, employing local labor and non-discriminatory employment practices
- Occupation must be an eligible occupation found on the following list: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2011L00246
- Occupation must be remunerated at no less than the temporary skilled migration income threshold (TSMIT) -- currently $49,330
- Terms and conditions of employment are no less favorable than those provided to an Australian performing equivalent work in the employer’s workplace
- Have the skills, qualifications, experience and an employment background which match those required for the position
- If required, show English language proficiency&?nbsp;
- Eligible for any required licenses or registration
- Meet health and character requirements
- Maintain relevant health insurance
This pathway is available to non-Australians who have formed a relationship with either an Australian citizen or permanent resident, or certain eligible New Zealand citizens.
Eligible relationships include those between people who are legally married, people in a de facto relationship (for example who have registered their relationship), including same-sex couples in a de facto relationship, as well as “interdependent couples.”
The process under partner migration usually occurs in two stages. The visa applicant is initially granted temporary residency. Two years from the date of application, DIAC requests evidence that the relationship is still ongoing. Permanent residency is then granted if DIAC is satisfied that the visa applicant is still in a genuine relationship with the Australian partner.
It may be possible for an applicant to obtain permanent residency and avoid the two step process if they can demonstrate one of the following:
- They have been in a married or de facto (including same-sex) relationship with their partner for three years or more
- They have been in a married or de facto (including same-sex) relationship with their partner for two years or more, and there is a dependent child of their relationship
- Each case is different and a person’s options and prospects will depend on the particular circumstances of their case;
- The pathway for some applicants may not be straightforward and there may be the need for a long term strategy;
- Those interested in applying should undertake research and consider obtaining advice on visa options.
The firm’s website is http://www.visalawyers.com.au.