This is the second post in Moving to Australia series. Read Part 1 here.
As I said in part 1, understanding the visa process is very important. There are many visa consultants who can help you out for a fee. At this point, it is essential to understand that the visa consultant’s primary interest is NOT to get you a visa, it is to get his fee. To that end, be very cautious and do proper research before you pay the consultant. Australia’s dept. of immigration & border protection(DIBP) also has certified agents, known as MARA agents, who can help you with the process. It is important to understand all aspects of the visa process, including the documentation required and various fees at the start. You do not want to be stuck half-way in the process for the want of documents/money.
The visa type I applied for was skilled independent visa(subclass 189). This visa is aimed towards skilled migrants whose skills are in short supply in Australia. The visa processing can be split up in two parts, pre-application & application.
In the pre-application stage, you are getting all your documents together to prove your eligibility for the visa. For me, these documents were an ACS assessment of my skills, and an IELTS exam. The ACS assessment(or skill assessment) is most crucial as without this, I couldn’t apply. This assessment took around 2.5 months to come through after I had submitted all documentation. All submissions I made were online, so there was no need to queue up in any office. After ACS assessment came through, I registered for IELTS exam, and this is where I learnt a very important lesson. Procrastination is very bad in the visa process. Let me explain why.
After I had applied for the ACS assessment, I continued on with life as normal, waiting for the result to come in before I moved further with IELTS. This was a bad move on my part, as when the ACS assessment came in positive after a couple of months & I looked towards the IELTS exam, I realized that exam dates weren’t available for another 2 months! I took the first available date and prepared for that, and my results came out just in time. I say just in time, because had I waited for another month, new visa fee rules would have come into effect that would’ve doubled the fee I was to pay! A little bit of luck helped me, but if I were to do it again, I would prepare and give IELTS while waiting for ACS results to come in.
IELTS is your next big hurdle. To be eligible for the visa, I needed a minimum score of 6 in all bands(reading, writing, listening & speaking). However, more points are always better, so try to aim for a 7 or higher band. If you are a native English speaker, or you have studied/worked in English speaking environments, this exam won’t be too hard. If not, you will be better off taking lessons for IELTS. When you register, IELTS will send you a study book with a CD that is very helpful. Even if you are a good English speaker, take some of the sample exams from this book/CD & the IELTS website. Practice makes perfect!
IELTS normally takes a fortnight to send out the results. Once your IELTS result is out, you can apply for the visa. Now the application is another two step process. First step is to apply for expression of interest(EOI). This stage requires you to send all your details to the DIBP, and then based on your points claimed, they will get back to you with an EOI. This process can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, based on the points you have. Higher points usually mean faster processing at this stage.
After you get your EOI, you can proceed to the actual visa application. At this stage, you need to supply all documents to support your application and pay the visa fees. This is also a very good time to apply for your police clearance. The process(& times) to get police clearance differs in each country. Also if your police clearance is not in English, you need to have it translated using an official translation service. Guidelines for all of these steps, document formats etc are available at the DIBP website. If you think police clearance may take some time to obtain, you may want to apply for it during your IELTS process as well.
Another thing you need to supply during your visa application is a medical clearance. This needs to be obtained from doctors who are certified by DIBP(list on their website), and is a fully online process. Usually, your case officer will ask you to go for a medical and that is your cue. You can also do it on your own before the case officer asks for it. The results of the medical exams will not be given to you, they will be uploaded by the doctors directly for the case officer to see. This all gets linked to your visa application. Once the doctors upload your medical assessment, there is a medical board that looks at it. If they find nothing wrong, they approve, else they may ask you to go for further tests. All of this is communicated to you via email.
After all this is done, and the case officer is satisfied with the documents you have provided, they will grant/deny the visa. My experience during this stage was quite pleasant, the case officer wanted to see extra documents and emailed me asking for exactly what he required. I uploaded them in a week and after that, my grant came through.
It is very important to note that you must NOT, under any circumstances, try to provide forged or incorrect documents during the visa process at any stage. If you are not eligible for a visa due to one reason or another, talk to a visa consultant for your options. Usually there are different visa subtypes for different cases and you may just be eligible for another subtype. At times, alternate documents are allowed, but you must confirm it with your case officer.
If everything goes well, your visa grant will be emailed to you. Australia has electronic visas for almost all long-term categories, so you don’t need to worry about a visa stamp on your passport.
This process can take anywhere from 6 months to over a year to complete. It is very important to stay motivated and focussed during this time. Be pro-active, be prepared to put a lot of sweat, blood(yes, they need a blood test) and tears in the process. This process is an ultimate test of patience, but if you are willing to persevere, you will be rewarded at the end.
Yay, visa! In the next part, I will talk about planning your move, now that you have a visa in hand.
The process I outlined above is as of 2013. As with all govt related stuff, this process can change! Make sure you do your research before applying for a visa. If you are serious about applying for a visa, you MUST get your information from the Department of Immigration & Border Protection website.