The biggest change to the Australian immigration system for many years that comes into force in a year's time could mean delays for applicants, according to visa experts.

The new Skilled Migrant Selection Model means that from 01 July 2012 anyone applying for a skilled immigration visa needs to register an online Expression of Interest (EOI), similar to the system in neighbouring New Zealand.

You then have to be invited to make an immigration application. Immigration experts reckon that prospective migrants to Australia will have to wait probably about six months to find out if they are allowed to make an immigration application.

In the current Australian immigration system, as long as you meet the requirements, you can submit an immigration application right away.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the change was necessary. 'It is critical that Australia's skilled migration programme is driven by Australia's skills needs, rather than the desires of prospective migrants,' he explained.

'That's why we are introducing the new model for selecting skilled migrants to better target Australia's future skill needs. The new system will be fair and equitable for people wishing to migrate to Australia and will deliver strong outcomes for local employers who demonstrate they are unable to fill their skilled positions locally,' he added.

Visa categories affected by the changes include the Independent Migrant subclass 175, Sponsored Migrant subclass 176, Independent Residence subclass 885, Sponsored Residence subclass 886, Regional Sponsored Provisional subclass 475 and Regional Sponsored Provisional subclass 487.

A spokesman for the Department for Immigration and Citizenship said that there could be changes made before it is introduced in 2012 but overall it will reduce the time people have to wait as the aim is to match people to jobs.

'In doing so it will deliver the skills Australia needs by matching the best and brightest migrants to the available places in the migration programme. The Model will be an electronic system based upon a two stage process, the spokesman explained.

'Prospective applicants first submit claims for skilled migration through an online EOI and subsequently may be invited to make a visa application. This is a significant change from the current situation, as applicants for independent or state/territory sponsored migration will be required to receive an invitation in order to lodge a visa application.

'Once invited, the Model will ensure a match between the number of applicants and the number of available programme places. This will result in streamlined processing times,' he added.

According to DIAC a key benefit of the Model is the ability to address regional skill shortages. 'The Model allows prospective migrants to nominate their willingness to live and work in regional Australia. This will be of particular benefit to employers experiencing regional skills shortages and state and territory governments attempting to settle migrants in regional Australia,' said the spokesman.

'The Model will connect state and territory governments and Australian employers with potential skilled workers through a central database of prospective skilled migrants. This will help state and territory governments maximise the benefit derived from their state and territory Migration Plans.

'From the perspective of employers, the Model would assist in the resolution of skills shortages through quick and easy identification of prospective workers with the requisite skills and attributes, reducing advertising and recruitment costs to businesses.'