Virginia, US
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| Mihan Hannan

Skills Assessments for ICT Professionals in Australia

In its last Migration Programme Report for the year ending 30 June 2016, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (Department) released statistics confirming that the Skill stream comprising the Employer Sponsored Category, the General Skilled Migration category (GSM), and the Business Innovation and Investment Programme and Distinguished Talent categories amounted to 67.7 percent of the total 2015-2016 migration programme outcome.
 
Delving further, the GSM category comprised the majority of the Skill stream, with a total of 56.7 percent of the Skill stream outcome.
 
Evidently, the GSM program represents a significant pathway used by individuals who wish to apply for permanent residence in Australia independent of an employer. However, applications for GSM visas are by invitation only, and an individual will first require a relevant assessing authority to assess their skills as suitable for a nominated occupation (skills assessment) from the Skilled Occupation List (CSOL) or the broader Consolidated Skilled Occupation List (CSOL).
 
A skills assessment is also required by some individuals when applying for employer sponsored permanent residence under the Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186) visa through the Direct Entry stream.
 
Australian Computer Society: Skills Assessments for ICT Professionals
 
With no less than 24 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) related occupations on the CSOL, understanding how to navigate a skills assessment application with the Australian Computer Society (ACS) the relevant assessing body for ICT occupations is often the most significant challenge for potential visa applicants in the ICT industry.
 
ACS skills assessment applications are assessed in three steps:
 
  1. Firstly, an applicant’s qualifications will be assessed against the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) to ensure that they are comparable to Australian education standards;
  2. Secondly, an applicant’s qualification will be assessed to determine the ICT content (e.g. Major, Minor or Insufficient);
  3. Thirdly, the percentage of ICT units from the applicant’s qualification will be assessed to determine the amount of experience that need be evidenced.
 
The AQF
 
The AQF is the policy for regulated qualifications in the Australian education and training system. Obtaining sound advice to determine the assessment of an occupation against this framework is a crucial task at the initial stages of an application. One of the common problems that we have seen is that not only are certain foreign education providers not recognised by Australia in the AQF, but certain qualifications may be recognised at a higher or lower standard. For example, a Bachelor’s degree may in fact be recognised as a Diploma (or vice versa).
 
Skills and Experience
 
If an applicant’s qualifications are recognised as equivalent to an AQF recognised ICT Diploma or higher, they may be eligible for positive skills assessment provided they evidence the requisite minimum years of experience. Broadly speaking:
 
  • an AQF recognised Bachelor’s Degree with an ICT major closely related to the nominated occupation will require 2 years experience in the last 10 years (or 4 years total);
  • an AQF Bachelor’s Degree with an ICT major not closely related to the nominated occupation will require 4 years of relevant work experience completed at any time;
  • an AQF recognised Bachelor’s Degree or higher with an ICT minor closely related to the nominated occupation will require at least 5 years of relevant work experience in the last 10 years (or 6 years total);
  • an AQF Bachelor’s Degree or higher with an ICT minor not closely related to the nominated occupation will require 6 years of relevant work experience at any time.
 
For those with an AQF recognised non-ICT Diploma or higher, or ICT work experience only (with no AQF recognised tertiary qualifications), a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) application will be required. The RPL is a time consuming and complicated process and a poorly constructed application, which does not meet the requisite criteria and can lead to a skills assessment refusal.
 
What Will a Successful RPL Application Require?
 
The RPL is a process that involves assessment of an individual's relevant prior learning (including formal, informal and non-formal learning) to determine whether they meet skills assessment requirements.
 
Broadly speaking, a successful RPL application will require an applicant to submit two project reports with detailed career episodes in their employment history evidencing the claimed ICT knowledge. An ACS RPL Form will also be required.
 
Although the RPL Report must be an individual’s own work, an experienced immigration lawyer can advise on the likelihood of success based on the information that has been provided. 
 
Things to Watch Out for
 
Even if a CV suggests a good chance of success, there are some tricky requirements in the application process which if not adhered to, can lead to a refusal. Here are a few things we recommend applicants should watch for:
 
  • All applications must be “decision ready” which means all the documentation must meet the ACS requirements at time of application;
  • Employment reference letters must comply with specific ACS guidelines (for example if duties or dates are “unclear or open to misrepresentation, the work episode will be assessed as not suitable”);
  • Failure to relevantly identify qualifications prior to preparing an application can lead to a refusal of the skills assessment application based on an applicant applying the wrong criteria;
  • ACS only accepts “certified” documents (colour scans are not sufficient);
  • Even if a qualification indicates an “ICT Major / Minor”, ACS will measure every course undertaken to assess ICT content. For example, an ICT Major as assessed by ACS requires “at least 50% ICT content”; and 
  • The wording on a qualification is irrelevant in determining the validity of a qualification. For example, a Bachelor's or Master's degree may only be equivalent to an AQF Diploma, or not recognised at all.
 
Reviews and Appeals
 
Lastly, if an individual receives a negative ACS assessment, they may submit a ‘Review’ application within 60 days of the skills assessment result. This process allows an individual to submit additional information or to be assessed under a different occupation.
 
On the other hand, an ‘Appeal’ application is for circumstances where an individual considers that an error has been made based on the information that has already provided. Appeals must also be made within 60 days of the assessment letter being issued.
 
If you would like professional assistance in applying for an ACS assessment, Review or Appeal or seek advice about GSM applications in your occupation, please contact me directly at mhannan@fragomen.com or 02 09017 7567.