This is what happened to Di Fan, a Chinese international student not long ago. Having finished her two-year bachelor of multimedia degree and just started her Masters degree in IT at the university of Sydney, Di lodged her 885 (PR) application in March 2010. "I called the DIAC office and the phone operator told me if I complete my masters before my case is assessed, I would be granted 15 points for these three years of study," Di recalls.
The points Di talks about refers to the points test, where a range of factors are matched with certain points and assessed to determine applicants eligibility for visa under the DIAC General Skilled Migration (GSM) program. For Di, she planned to use her Master degree to gain an extra 10 points to reach the 120 points pass mark for PR once her degree is finished by the end of 2010. But in April 2011, when she was assigned a case officer, she was told that is impossible because she completed her Masters after lodging her PR application.
"Why did the DIAC officer tell me it's ok when it's not?" When confronted with two pieces of conflicting information that are both coming from the DIAC, Di was left very confused. "I didn't know what else I could do. It was made clear by my case officer that I can't get enough points for PR at that point and she left the choice to me," believing it was the only option for her, Di wrote an email reply and withdrew her application.
As one of many who applied visa by themselves, any update on Di's case is communicated directly between the case officer and her through email exchange. "A friend of mine applied PR by herself and got her visa granted. So I thought I'd do it myself too. And if any problems come up, I would just ask her," Di explains.
Unfortunately, not everything in life works out perfectly according to plan, especially when it comes to visa applications where everyone's cases appear to be similar but actually varies drastically from one to another. With limited knowledge of the complicated and frequent changing immigration policy, Di did not fully understand the task she was about to face. It was not about two months later in June 2011, when Di had a consultation with Australian Immigration Law Services (AILS), she learnt that once an applicant withdraw the application voluntarily, she would instantly lose the rights to appeal to higher levels if a mistake has been made. However many students like Di would not know this unless they have reached the final stage- by then it would already be too late.
"I thought it was OK because I had applied for TR (temporary residency, 485 visa) before 8th of February in 2010 as a back up plan in case things don't go smoothly with my PR application," Di explains. "My case officer said as long as I can relate my studies to my skills assessment and the occupation I lodge with, I can re-apply for PR later."
Di trusted her case officer's words. And there was no reason for Di to worry about proving the relationship between them after so many complications she had already gone through in applying for skills assessment for three times.
"The first time was for my TR application and the migration agent I consulted with at the time told me the wrong information," Di explains. "He suggested me to get my bachelor's degree assessed under the occupation of 'advertising specialist' because he said my degree (bachelor of multimedia) was not an IT related degree and it's impossible for me to get a positive outcome for any IT related occupation."
But Di did not want to give up just like that. After receiving a positive result for 'advertising specialist' and used it for her TR application, she applied for another skills assessment by herself, using the same bachelor degree. This time, she nominated the occupation of 'ICT recent graduate', and the result came out to be positive as well.
"I used the new result for my PR application but later on had to apply for a third skills assessment," Di continues. "Because after lodging my PR application, DIAC introduced a new SOL (Skilled Occupation List) in July last year. I had to 're-new' my skills assessment with all the exact same materials I provided before to match the occupation on the new priority list, as a 'developer programmer'," She smiles and slight pauses. "Have I lost you yet?"
Nearly. It is a bit hard to comprehend as an outsider how one has to use the same degree to apply for three different skills assessments just so she can remain in the game. But that's just the reality what many international students have to face on a regular basis as a result of the constant changing DIAC rules. They have to plan ahead and make sure every action taken is carefully analysed and within the right time frame because any mistake in between could rule out their eligibility for the PR application, let alone if there will ever be a happy ending for the long waited process.
"I felt lucky enough to have gone through all the rules change and found a job right after I graduate, but it's just a very insecure feeling not knowing what your future's going to be," Di speaks softly, yet behind that soft voice is a strong heart. She knew there was no time to dwell on the past; she had make preparation for the next PR application. "I really wanted to make sure my new PR application goes well, so I went to Australian Immigration Law Service (AILS) for a consultation after seeing some relevant information for me from the newsletter it provides."
Then the biggest shock came.
AILS told Di she should never have withdrawn her PR application because the information given by her case officer was wrong - there is no requirement in the DIAC regulations for completing Masters before lodging PR application for gaining assessment points and Di was entitled for the 15 points; what's more, AILS also complained about the quality of the advice given to Di raising this directly about her case to senior management level of DIAC. Then within two days, Di's case was re-opened, reviewed, and her PR was granted.
"I felt nearly having a heart attack when AILS called me!" Di Chuckles. "It was already shocking enough when AILS pointed to me the exact immigration policy where the case officer got wrong, then only two days after my consultation with AILS they told me I got my PR granted. I was so surprised!"
Di is now able to plan her future here in Sydney with her boyfriend and continue to work in her beloved profession as an e-learning designer for a renowned international company. But sadly, for many of her friends, it's a different story.
"I've seen a lot of my friends withholding their baby plans, not knowing if they should stay and work here or go back to China because some of them are affected by the DIAC rules change" Di sighs softly.
"I wish they have all consulted a professional and experienced migration agent before making any important decisions, because your case officer could be wrong. It's not impossible. You never know."