Sep 10, 2021

Ranking State Migration Programs


VisAustralia regularly assesses and rates accrediting bodies and state government migration programs against objective standards of decision making. We assess these programs based on the transparency of the criteria, the integrity of the decision-making process, whether there are review rights, and the likelihood that a state government will randomly close its program or change the rules.

These are basic standards that any legal system must have to produce rational and fair outcomes.

To be truthful, Australian state governments have a poor track record of mismanaging their nomination programs. Rules change randomly and often retrospectively, the rules are not clearly articulated, discretion is rampant, there are no review rights, and state governments routinely close their programs without notice when quotas are exhausted. There is little consultation with the users of the system or their migration agent representatives.

None of this is satisfactory and it makes it difficult for applicants to plan to meet state government nomination criteria and to plot a way through the maze of the Australian migration system.

This is stressful and unnecessary for visa applicants and does not produce better quality candidates.

VisAustralia Immigration Lawyers is a migration agency based in Canberra. Formed by senior legal officers from the Department of Immigration eighteen years ago, we have always considered it part of our responsibility to lobby and agitate for a better visa system.

As part of this work, we run periodic assessments of accrediting bodies and state governments.

This article looks frankly at state government nomination policies and gives an assessment about which state government has the best program.


No. 1 – Australian Capital Territory

In our view, the ACT Government has the best state nomination program of any state or territory government in Australia.

The criteria are transparent and information about the management of the program allows intending applicants to understand the reality of whether they will be nominated or not. The Critical Skills List clearly defines who will be nominated and allows you to plan to move to Canberra to facilitate a migration outcome.

This ACT did not always have the best state nomination program in the country.

On 29 June 2018, the ACT Government closed its program without consultation or prior notice. The closure retrospectively damaged the legitimate expectations of thousands of international students living in Canberra. This was not the first time the ACT Government had closed its program without notice.

Over the years VisAustralia has advocated intensely for changes to the ACT program that would make it more transparent to people seeking to migrate to Canberra and less unpredictable. We had repeatedly complained and arranged meetings with the Government to outline our concerns. Tired of being ignored, this time we decided to take action.

In August 2018 VisAustralia facilitated a protest by international students living in Canberra. Thousands of international students signed our petition and over two hundred students took to the streets in an unprecedented step of protesting against the partial closure by the ACT Government of its migration program.

VisAustralia also prepared to launch a class action against the ACT Government on behalf of international students drawn into Canberra in the previous 12 months by “promises” made by the ACT Government linking study in Canberra with a migration outcome. VisAustralia briefed a senior barrister who prepared a formal Legal Opinion stating the action of the ACT Government was unlawful.

In the face of the threat of legal action the Department of Immigration allocated additional places to the ACT Government and it reformed its program to make it fairer to applicants. The program re-opened and every student in Canberra at the time the program closed in June 2018 had the opportunity to apply for nomination and a Skilled visa.

VisAustralia played a key role in pressuring the ACT Government to implement higher standards in its decision making and policy formation. The result is the ACT program is both the model and the measure against which other state government programs can be measured. This very real improvements in the policy and the benefits this brings not just to VisAustralia clients but all applicants shows the value of considered leadership and focused advocacy.

These changes arising from our advocacy have benefited all users ever since.


No. 2 – South Australia

South Australia has historically had one of the better-managed state nomination programs. While there have been sudden closures and farcical situations where an occupation would be opened for a day before suddenly closing, the program is generally transparent and reliable.

In its current form, criteria for nomination are generally well explained and it is possible to assess whether you are eligible for nomination based on the information on its website. If you have a question about the program, officials will answer your question professionally and quickly.

VisAustralia Assessment: the South Australian program is second only to the ACT in providing applicants with certainty of outcome.


No. 3 – Tasmania

The Tasmanian migration program provides different avenues for applying for nomination, including pathways for those who have studied in Tasmania for 12 months, for those who work in Tasmania on a Graduate or other for six months, and for offshore applicants.

While we have found the pathways to be clear the details are complex and exceedingly subjective. It is difficult to predict an outcome and you have to be careful in how you present information about your circumstances and future plans to the Tasmanian Government. We are also concerned the Tasmanian Government in its generosity of policy has attracted too many people to Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government does not have a sufficient quota to invite everyone currently in Tasmania.

VisAustralia Assessment: The Tasmanian program is the third-best in the country based on standards of transparency and reliability of decision making. But the situation seems very similar to the situation in the ACT in May 2018 just before the ACT Government closed its program. We are concerned the Tasmanian nomination program will either seize up and stop working or be suddenly closed.


 Not ranked: NSW Nomination program

To apply for nomination to NSW is a lottery.

The NSW criteria are broad but confusing. While it may seem you meet the criteria for a Subclass 190 or 491 visa, you cannot apply for nomination based on the rules. You first need to express an interest in applying. The trouble is there is no certainty you will be invited to apply. The criteria, generous as they may be, are de-linked from an outcome. These de-linking defeats the purpose of having criteria.

The resulting uncertainty is an insult to the thousands of people seeking to migrate to NSW.

More disturbingly, the NSW Government has so little confidence in the integrity of its own program that its own website “strongly encourages people to explore all other visa options and migration pathways and not wait to be invited”.

VisAustralia Assessment: Take the advice of the NSW Government and run from NSW.


Not ranked: Queensland

The Queensland Government program is closed until further notice. The Queensland Government has a poor history of randomly closing and opening and closing its program. Criteria have never been particularly clear or generous.

VisAustralia Assessment: Applicants who may wish to apply for Queensland nomination are advised to seek other options now and review the rules very carefully if and when the program reopens later in 2021.


Not ranked: Victoria

The Victorian Government program is limited and restricted to a small number of occupations.

It has recently moved to an invitation system, creating a level of uncertainty for intending applicants.

VisAustralia Assessment: Invitation systems do not work for applicants. They create uncertainty and stress for applicants and place the aces in the deck of cards in the hands of the program managers and not applicants. If you are living in a state with an invitation system, like Victoria, we suggest you pack your bags and run.



VisAustralia is holding a webinar to discuss state nomination programs. We will comment on these issues and discuss the implications of moving to Canberra to facilitate a migration outcome.

The Webinar will take place on September 30 2021 at 12 PM Canberra time.

Click here to register.