Original Article Date: October 2015
Last Updated: 21 October 2015
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I am writing this article, in detail, to help the poor souls who go through the pain and heartache of obtaining a visa from the Australian government; not that there is any criticism against the Australian Government, but that the process is long and can get complicated!

This article specifically applies to the subclass 189 visa, but can also be applied to subclass 132/188/190/489, since they all require SkillSelect.

I feel it is rather important to document not only my timelines, but the various people I used to accomplish everything, my costs, the pain I went through at various stages of the process and my pitfalls, to help others in not making the same mistakes as I did. While this does pertain to my visa, I feel that there are some valuable points in this article for anybody who is applying for an Australian visa, as it highlights the basic documentation required.

While this article can also be applied to anybody in the world, it is specifically geared towards South Africans living in South Africa as all costs are documented in South Africa Rands (ZAR).

I am going to start off with my timeline and costs since, those are the key factors in obtaining such a visa and of course the minimum requirements for the visa!

My Timeline

Below is my exact timeline for my entire process with milestones.

IELTS – International English Language Testing System
EOI – Expression of Interest

It took me a full 18 months from start to finish to obtain my visa, however I did waste quite a bit of time in the beginning trying to decide which route to go. I feel this process can really be nailed down, to between 6 and 9 months, depending on how much of the requisite documentation you have. I could have also done certain things in parallel, like gather my documentation and have done the IELTS while I was waiting for my Unabridged Birth Certificate.

Here are some of my key milestones:

  • 14 Mar 2014 – 21 Oct 2014 — It took 7 months to obtain my correct Unabridged Birth Certificate. The first copy I obtained did not have my Mother’s ID number on it and they spelled her name incorrectly. I therefore requested a vault copy, which took ages. You may lose a few years of your life dealing with South African Home Affairs. :(
  • It took me a good 4 and a half months to collect all my documentation for my skills assessment, which included; all my work references, university transcript, up-to-date CV, letters of service, letter of current employment, etc. You shall notice that my documentation gathering overlapped with my skills assessment because I had to redo a reference from a specific company, which was initially rejected by the assessing authority.
  • You could wait up to 6 weeks to write the IELTS exam, from the date of your booking!
  • 25 Feb 2015 – 12 Mar 2015 — Skills Assessment (initial) from ACS (Australian Computer Society) took 2 weeks. Pretty quick turn around time!
  • 30 Mar 2015 – 9 Apr 2015 — Skills Assessment (appeal) from ACS (Australian Computer Society) took less than 2 weeks. Also pretty quick!
  • 16 Apr 2015 — My Expression of Interest (EOI) was submitted.
  • 24 Apr 2015 — I received an invitation baby!!!
  • 6 May 2015 — My application was lodged & paid for.
  • 3 Jul 2015 — Case officer assigned to my application requesting a medical & Policy Clearance Certificate.
  • 22 Jul 2015 — Submitted request for Police Clearance from SAPS. (Took 3½ weeks)
  • 24 Jul 2015 — Medical done and submitted.
  • 17 Aug 2015 — Police Clearance Certificate from SAPS received and submitted to case officer.
  • 22 August 2015 — VISA GRANT NOTICE ISSUED BABY!!!!

Summary of Costs

These were my exact costs and the dates of the expenses:

  • The costs of services were relevant at the time that they were paid for.
  • Please note that the AU$ exchange rate was relevant at the time of the expense, which fluctuated between R9.02 & R9.50 to the Australian Dollar.
  • Take into consideration the Credit Card charges when converting AU$ to Rand.
  • All amounts are inclusive of VAT.
Item Institution Date AU$ Cost Rand Cost
Agent Inception Cost Australian Agent 07 March 2014 N/A R9,500
Unabridged Birth Certificate QLine Document Services 14 March 2014 (Took 7 months) N/A R1,400
IELTS Mock Test Avenue English 26 November 2014 N/A R200
IELTS Official Exam (1st Round) British Council 03 December 2014 (Test 10 January 2015) N/A R2,400
IELTS Material + Lessons Avenue English 02 February 2015 N/A R490
Skills Assessment Australian Computer Society (ACS) 25 February 2015 (Took 2 weeks) AU$500 R4,650
IELTS Lessons Avenue English 24 March 2015 N/A R450
Skills Assessment Appeal Australian Computer Society (ACS) 30 March 2015 (Took less than 2 weeks) AU$375 R3,450
IELTS Official Test (2nd Round) British Council 12 March 2015 (Test 30 April 2015) N/A R2,400
Agent Final Cost Australian Agent 04 May 2015 N/A R19,000
Official Visa Application Lodged Australian Government 06 May 2015 AU$3,600 R35,505
Police Clearance South African Police Service (SAPS) 07 July 2015 (22nd submitted)(Took 3½ weeks) N/A R96
Full Medical Dr Hugh Cobb 24 July 2015 N/A R800
Chest X-Ray Dr Sulman & Partners 24 July 2015 N/A R700
Total: R81,041

Professional Services Used

Below are the professional services I used throughout my process.

The key people that helped me with the entire process were the Australian Agent I used.

Australian Agent

I used Australian Migration Specialists which I can highly recommend, not only for their excellent service but also their detailed knowledge on all visas for Australia and how the entire process works.

While an agent is expensive, you really don’t want the added pressure of messing up key documentation at specific points in the process.

This agent is a member of the following institutes:

Cost

The full cost of using the agent was R28,500 (R25,000 ex vat). This was split into 3 installments due at certain stages of the process.
(this amount was valid when I started the process in March 2014).

Contact Details

Australian Migration Specialists
1st Floor, West Wing
President Place
Cnr Hood Avenue and Baker Street
Rosebank, South Africa
Tel: +27 11 783 9440
Fax: +27 11 388 9818
Website: http://www.australianmigration.co.za
Email: [email protected]

I personally dealt with Tracey Lawrence which was my primary contact from beginning to end; she is EXTREMELY knowledgeable on ALL visas, very helpful and professional! I highly recommend her!


IELTS

International English Language Testing System

British Council

To book all my IELTS exams I used the British Council!

Contact Details
Website: http://www.britishcouncil.org.za/exam/ielts

Avenue English

I used Avenue English for all my training for the IELTS including all material used to prepare for the exam! I found them extremely affordable and they train you on exactly what you need to know to score your required band on the IELTS!

Contact Details
Avenue English
154 Corlett Drive,
Bramley,
Johannesburg, South Africa
Tel: +27 11 440 2239
Website: http://www.avenue-english.org
Email: [email protected]

I dealt with Bev Isaacs who was very helpful with everything that I needed to pass the exam!


South African Documentation

QLine Document Services

I used QLine to obtain my unabridged birth certificate. I found their prices acceptable and their turn around time pretty decent, even though I waited 7 months for the official vault copy of my unabridged birth certificate. However, no criticism to them as they were chasing South African Home Affairs constantly!

Contact Details
QLine Document Services
1st Floor,
2 Skeen Boulevard,
Bedfordview,
Johannesburg, South Africa
Tel: +27 86 183 5263
Fax: +27 86 589 8629
Website: http://www.qline.co.za
Email: [email protected]

SAPS

For my police clearance I obviously used SAPS. I went to my local police station for finger prints and paid.

R96 for the police clearance. They can either submit it on your behalf or you can go drop it off in Pretoria yourself 😉
(my agent took care of it for me).

Don’t forget your ID book when you go for finger prints! They need to check who you are!

Contact Details
Website: http://www.saps.gov.za

The 189 Visa

About the Visa

I feel this is an extremely sought after visa due to the fact that it is a 5 year visa with PR (Permanent Residency)!!! Yes you read correctly, it has PR off the bat. The other advantage of this visa is it allows you to work for whomever you please, stay wherever you please (any state), and if you want to open up a business, you can!

This visa also allows you multiple, entries which means once the visa has been issued you can enter and leave Australia as many times as you want for 5 years from the original date of issue.

What this visa let’s you do:

  • stay in Australia indefinitely.
  • work and study in Australia.
  • enrol in Medicare, Australia’s scheme for health-related care and expenses.
  • apply for Australian citizenship (if you are eligible).
  • sponsor eligible relatives for permanent residence.
  • travel to and from Australia for five years from the date the visa is granted (after that time, you will need a resident return visa or another visa to return to Australia).

Once you get the visa, it needs to be activated <- I will get to that later!


Expression of Interest (EOI)

What is an Expression of Interest (EOI)? An EOI is basically putting up your hand and letting the Australian Government know that you are keen to migrate or at least apply for an Australian skilled visa. Before you submit your EOI you must nominate (choose) a skill, have it assessed and have all your relevant documentation ready for submission.

An EOI is NOT a visa application!!!

My agent obviously prepared my EOI, but what was clear was the requirement for all the documentation beforehand.

Required Documentation for EOI

You MUST have the following documentation READY before you submit your EOI, as you will be submitting it with your EOI:

  • Unabridged Birth Certificate – For proof of age.
  • Completed Skills Assessment – For proof of work experience & qualifications.
  • English competency (complete one the approved English testing exams) – For proof of your English ability/skill. (I chose the IELTS).

Requirements

When you read the requirements below, it is not a linear approach; you need to have knowledge of every part to understand the full requirement, so read carefully and reference back and forth :)

This is a points based visa, for which you MUST score at least 60 points to qualify.
You CANNOT just apply for the visa, you need to be invited in response to an Expression of Interest (EOI).

Once you have your invitation the following requirements must be met:

  • nominated an occupation that is on the relevant skilled occupation list.
  • obtained a suitable skills assessment for that occupation.
  • not yet turned 50 years of age.
  • achieved the score specified in your letter of invitation based on the factors in the points test.
  • at least competent English. (Score at least 6 in each of the four test components (speaking, reading, listening and writing on the IELTS).

SkillSelect

What is important to understand about this visa is that you need to nominate a skilled occupation and have that skilled occupation assessed.
The assessment is a requirement for the visa, but it also gives you points, which are vital in meeting the 60 points mark.

Before you continue, select a skill off the SOL (Skilled Occupation List):
(This list is updated on the 1st of July every year).

Skilled Occupation List

This list is derived from SkillSelect which is a service that aids the Australian Government in the skilled migration programme by assessing what skills are in “short supply” in terms of Australia’s economic needs. It basically addresses skill shortages for Australia not only nationally but in specific regions.

I selected “Computer Network and Systems Engineer” ANZSCO 263111

You can find the relevant skill assessing authority on the SOL page. 😉 Mine was the Australian Computer Society (ACS).

You have to have a Skills Assessment done before you submit your Expression Of Interest!


Points

Now before you even think of trying to go down the route of obtaining this visa, make sure you have enough points. This is extremely well documented on the www.border.gov.au site, but let’s go through them now!

Age (Max 30 Points)

This is a requirement that cannot be ignored, and obviously you cannot be older than 50.

Note that your age is relevant at the time of receiving your invitation, even if you have a birthday after the invitation that puts you into another age category.
(ie. I got my invitation when I was 32, in May 2015, although my visa was only granted in August 2015, when I was already 33)

Age 18-24 years 25 Points
25-32 years 30 Points
33-39 years 25 Points
40-44 years 15 Points
45-49 years 0 Points

English Language Ability (Max 20 Points)

So pay attention, in order to get points for English Language Ability you have to go for a test (obviously). I did the IELTS which is administrated by the British Council. Even though I scored a band (average) of 8 on the IELTS, they take your lowest common denominator.

I actually did the test twice and ended up using my first results, as my second results were similar; better in some categories and worse in others, go figure. 😛

I scored 7.0 for Listening, 8.0 for Reading, 7.5 for Writing and 9.0 for Speaking, so they only gave me 10 points, because my lowest common denominator was 7.0 (listening, clearly I don’t).

This is well documented on their site.

English Language Ability Competent English (minimum of 6 in each component on IELTS) 0 Points
Proficient English (minimum of 7 in each component on IETLS) 10 Points
Superior English (minimum of 8 in each component on IETLS) 20 Points

Skilled Employment (Max 20 Points)

This section basically gives you points based on your EXPERIENCE in your nominated skilled occupation.

It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to note that even though you might have been working for the last 10 years, like myself, the assessing authority generally takes 4 years off your experience, because in that time they don’t consider you skilled in that occupation, since you are still learning “the tricks of the trade”.

So BE CAREFUL when adding up points here, because I only got 10 points which falls between 5 to 8 years even though I have been working for 10 years in corporate.

Skilled Employment Outside Australia: skilled employment in your nominated skilled occupation or a closely related skilled occupation  
In skilled employment for at least three but less than five years (of the past 10 years) 5 Points
In skilled employment for at least five but less than eight years (of the past 10 years) 10 Points
In skilled employment for at least eight and up to 10 years (of the past 10 years) 15 Points
In Australia: skilled employment in your nominated skilled occupation or a closely related skilled occupation  
In skilled employment for at least one but less than three years (of the past 10 years) 5 Points
In skilled employment for at least three but less than five years (of the past 10 years) 10 Points
In skilled employment for at least five but less than eight years (of the past 10 years) 15 Points
In skilled employment for at least eight and up to 10 years (of the past 10 years) 20 Points

Qualifications (Max 20 Points)

This is pretty straight forward, either you have a diploma or a degree in your relevant field, or you don’t 😉

Qualifications Doctorate from an Australian educational institution or other doctorate of a recognised standard 20 Points
At least a bachelor degree from an Australian educational institution or other degree of a recognised standard 15 Points
Diploma or trade qualification completed in Australia 10 Points
An award or qualification recognised by the assessing authority in the assessment of the skilled occupation 10 Points

Australian study requirement

This did not apply to me!

Qualifications One or more degrees, diplomas or trade qualifications awarded by an Australian educational institution and meet the Australian study requirement 5 Points

Other Factors

This did not apply to me! Although I do know that if you want 5 points for Partner skill qualifications, they also have to have a Skills Assessment done.

Other factors Credentialed community language qualifications 5 Points
Study in regional Australia or a low population growth metropolitan area (excluding distance education) 5 Points
Partner skill qualifications 5 Points
Professional year in Australia for at least 12 months in the four years before the day you were invited to apply 5 Points

Nomination/Sponsorship (where required)

This did not apply to me! Although if you want a state or territory government sponsorship you are going to wait a while for that sponsorship,
and only if that state is actually sponsoring!

Nomination/sponsorship (where required) Nomination by state or territory government (visa subclass 190 only) 5 Points
Nomination by state or territory government or sponsorship by an eligible family member to reside and work in a specified/designated area (visa subclass 489 only) 10 Points

Overview of My Points

I initially scored a total of 70 points, however that was indicative, meaning that they gave me 15 for my work experience, but just at a glance, and when they tallied it all up, I got 65 points, basically 10 for my work experience.

Factor Description Points
Age 25-32 years 30 Points
English Language Ability Proficient 10 Points
Skilled Employment In skilled employment for at least five but less than eight years (of the past 10 years) 10/15 (indicative) Points
Qualifications At least a bachelor degree from an Australian educational institution or other degree of a recognised standard 15 Points
Total: 65/70 (indicative) Points

Skills Assessment

This is where your “Skilled Employment” points come from, so be sure to pay attention on HOW many years you are considered for, to figure out how many points you have obtained.

Once you have selected your skill from the Skilled Occupation List you need to get it assessed by the relevant assessing authority.
Mine was done through ACS (Australian Computer Society) relevant to my nominated skill.

My skills assessment was submitted by my agent, on my behalf.

Required Documentation
  • Unabridged Birth Certificate or Passport – Yes you need this!
  • Degree Certificate – If you have a degree.
    • Degree Transcript – Proof of subject names + grade + marks achieved.
  • Employee References – This proves your work experience (NB!!! read below on my experience).
Cost

AU$500 – For the initial assessment.
AU$375 – For the review/appeal if necessary.

My Experience

The skills assessment was an extremely frustrating part for me, mostly because in the initial skills assessment I had done, my work experience at one of the 4 companies I worked for in the last 10 years in my career was rejected as “not suitable” in terms of the nominated skill. I had to submit a request for review of the decision (at an additional cost :( ), by submitting a new reference letter or supplementary reference letter, which I drew up myself and got the company to sign. (you only have 60 days to submit an appeal or review).

The moral of the story is, MAKE SURE your references are 100% accurate (in keeping with your nominated skill) and up-to-date. I would recommend that you write your own reference letters and get the relevant company to sign them. Make sure they are as detailed and verbose as possible.

Even though I have been working for the last 10 years, they “took off” 4 years from my experience because they don’t consider you experienced in the first couple of years of your trade, so be VERY CAREFUL of that little caveat. 😉 It can seriously put a spanner in the works!

Here was my final skill assessment result:

Difference between Appeal and Review

If you are unhappy with your assessment you can appeal or review the decision. Please note the difference between an appeal and a review:

  • Review – You submit additional documentation, and the fee is non-refundable.
  • Appeal – You CANNOT submit additional documentation. If your appeal is successful, the appeal fee will be refunded.

Please refer to their official documentation, Guideline – Section 14, on the difference between an appeal and a review.


IELTS

The International English Language Testing System:

There is a general and an academic IELTS test. You need the general for this visa!

I found this test rather challenging because to score a minimum of 8 in each category the margin for error is rather small.

If you have enough points, with a minimum of 7 in each category, DO NOT waste your time and money doing it again like I did. If you really need the points in order to qualify for the visa, then make sure you get the material (I got it from Avenue English) and be attentive when taking the exam as you have a time limit per category.

Do as many mock tests as you can before writing the exam! It will give you a good idea of what to expect.

Cost

R2400 per exam, that obviously excludes all the study material and lessons (if you go for any).

You book through the British Council.

Reading (60 minutes)

It consists of 40 multiple choice questions in 3 sections.

This can get tricky especially the paragraph matching.

Read carefully 😉

To score a band of 8, you can only get 3 wrong, more than that and you fall into the band of 7. I am not sure what the band of 6 consists of in terms of how many you are allowed to get wrong.

Writing (60 minutes)

It consists of 2 parts; 1 letter (150 words), 1 essay (250 words).

Your time limit here is the bugger. Make sure you practice a lot of writing before you attempt this.

The letter they expect in a specific format, make sure you read the material on what is required.
The essay is argumentative, again in a specific format, make sure you read the material on what is required.

Listening (30 minutes)

There are 4 sections with 40 items.

All you have to do is listen, but it is tricky because you have to read the answer sheet in front of you and fill in the blanks, while listening.
Pay attention because they only say it once, which means if you daydream for a second, you are screwed!

Speaking (10-15 minutes)

It consists of 3 sections.

This is the most natural part of the entire test. Talk naturally, listen to the oral interviewer and answer to the best of your ability.


Invitation + Applying for your Visa

Timelines for Invitation

Once you have submitted your expression of interest, depending on your visa you can wait anything from 3 to 6 months to receive an invitation. However, mine took exactly 1 week.

Invitation rounds in the year I submitted my expression of interest (1 July 2014 – 30 June 2015) were running twice a month; on the first and second last Friday of each month.
They have now changed that as of the 1st of July 2015 (running to 30 June 2016) to ONE invitation round per month starting on the first Monday of each month.

Here are last year’s invitation statistics running 1 July 2014 – 30 June 2015 on the 189 & 489 visas.

If you are applying for the subclass 190, remember you need a state to nominate you and that takes a good 3 months and sometimes you may not get the nomination.


Applying for your Visa

Once you have an invitation first crack open a bottle of champagne, as you are pretty much on your way to obtaining your visa.

You have 60 days to apply for your visa from the date of the invitation. Remember your age is relevant from the date of your invitation NOT from the date of your application. i.e. I got my invitation on the 24th of April 2015, and I applied on the 6th of May 2015 and while my visa application was being processed I fell into another age group being 33, however my age was still 32 based on the fact that I got my invitation when I was 32.

Cost

At this point you should have saved enough cash to make a payment of AU$3600 to the Australian Government. You are going to incur credit card charges so make sure you double check the fee charges on credit cards here.

Please consult the website for the subclass 189 to figure out at which stage you need to pay for additional applicants (if you are taking your whole family over); cost below:

  • Additional Applicant Charge 18+ – AU$1800
  • Additional Applicant Charge U18 – AU$900

Visa Processing Time

There is a matrix table on their website on all visa processing times. This only pertains to the skilled migration visas.

The subclass 189 has a processing time of 3 months.

Mine took 3.5 months from the date of my application.


The Last Leg

Once you have applied for your visa you will get assigned a case officer, somewhere within the 3 month processing time.
(I got assigned a case officer on the 3rd of July 2015 to give you an indication of timing).

You know at this point that you are pretty much home free, you just have 2 items to you need to get done:

The case officer will request a full medical + X-Ray and a police clearance certificate.

Make sure you submit your request for police clearance first as that takes longer than the medical (unless they are fully booked for weeks).

It is IMPORTANT to understand that your police clearance and medical are valid for 1 year, and you have to activate your visa before either of the two expires!

Police Clearance

(Do this first before the medical).

Goto your local police station with R96 in cash on you, MAKE SURE YOU TAKE YOUR ID, between 8am and 5pm weekdays only, and ask for finger prints for police clearance.

SAPS can submit the police clearance on your behalf or you can drive to Pretoria to submit.

Google how to get a police clearance certificate if you are outside Gauteng.

Full Medical + X-Ray

If you are dealing with an agent they will give you a list of medical practitioners that are accredited with the department of immigration and border protection where you can go and get your full medical + x-ray done. You need a HAP number before you book your full medical, which was assigned to me by my agent.

The full medical is easy; blood tests, urine sample and a full body examination.

The x-ray is a chest x-ray.

WARNING!!!

In the full medical they take blood samples, which they use to test for HIV.IF YOU ARE POSITIVE THEY WILL IMMEDIATELY DENY YOU ENTRY!!!

DO NOT EVEN START THE PROCESS IF YOU KNOW YOU ARE HIV POSITIVE!!!

For the x-ray they do a full chest x-ray and give you the results then and there.
They test for major things like TB. If you know you have TB don’t even bother applying, you will get denied entry on TB!

Cost
  • R700 for X-Ray (dependent on local rates)
  • R800 for full medical (dependent on local rates)

When you receive your Visa Grant Notice

Congratulations on obtaining your VISA!!!

It will be valid for 5 years from date of issue.

You must activate it (make first entry to Australia), before either the police clearance or medical certificate expires. <- This is important!!!


Citizenship

After 4 years you can apply for citizenship, however note that you must get another police clearance from SAPS, so don’t rob a bank in the meantime and think you are home free!!!

Once you obtain Australian citizenship, note that if you don’t write to the South African government and ask them to retain your South African citizenship they will automatically renounce it!


Q & A

Q: How long are your IELTS results valid for?
A: 2 years only!

Q: How long is a skills assessment valid for?
A: It depends on the assessing authority, the default is 3 years, ACS however is 2 years.

Q: How long can you wait for a visa invitation?
A: It really depends on your visa type, anything from 1 week to 6 months. I got mine within 1 week after submitting my EOI!

Q: Once you have your invitation how long is it valid for?
A: You only have 60 days to apply for the visa once you have gotten your invitation, so make sure you have enough money to lodge your application.

Q: Can you submit an expression of interest (EOI) for more than one visa?
A: Yes you can. (please google for exactly how this works)

Q: Can you nominate more than one skill in an expression of interest (EOI)?
A: Yes you can. (please google for exactly how this works)

Q: Can you submit more than one EOI?
A: Apparently you can, but I have read that it is unwise. Once you get an invitation however, you cannot lodge another EOI until that invitation has expired!

Q: How many months do you need on your passport to consider it valid?
A: You need 6 months on your passport to consider it valid before date of expiry when you submit your EOI and on first entry!

Q: What happens if I don’t have enough points to submit my EOI?
A: Get more points either through “Skilled Employment” or “English Language Ability”!