Australia’s migration system is set for an overhaul from July 1, 2023 after a 186-page review released in April.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil made two announcements off the back of it, and the federal budget, handed down on 9 May, contained several more, including an increase in the cost of visa applications and funds to improve visa processing.
The government later announced Australia's reciprocal working holiday program with the United Kingdom is set to expand.
What visa changes have already been announced for 2023-24?
From 1 July 2023 (the start of Australia’s financial year), New Zealanders who have been living in Australia for four years or more
will be eligible to apply directly for Australian citizenship. They will no longer need to first apply for and be granted a permanent visa.
The changes apply to New Zealand citizens holding a Special Category (subclass 444) visa (SCV) who arrived here after 26 February 2001. Those who are long-term residents will be able to have their period of permanent residence backdated.
The New Zealand stream of the Skilled Independent (subclass 189) visa is currently closed to new applications and will permanently close on 1 July.
A new visa will be introduced, providing 3,000 places for
eligible migrants from Pacific countries
and Timor Leste.
Spots for the Pacific Engagement visa (PEV) will be allocated by a ballot process each year, and those selected will be able to apply for permanent residence in Australia.
Applications will be able to be lodged online from July.
In an effort to address workforce shortages, student visa work restrictions were relaxed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and removed last January. This allowed primary and secondary student visa holders to work over the usual limit of 40 hours per fortnight.
But from 1st July, student visa work restrictions will be re-introduced and capped at an increased rate of 48 hours per fortnight. This was confirmed in the federal budget handed down by Treasurer Jim Chalmers, which said international students working in the aged care sector will be exempt from the limit until 31 December 2023.
Also from this date, some holders of subclass 485 Temporary Graduate visas will be able to stay in Australia for a longer period.
The extension means a stay period of four years for Bachelor's degree graduates (up from two years), five years for Master's degree graduates (up from three) and six years for doctoral graduates (up from four).
A concession allowing Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) to work for the same employer or organisation for longer than six months without requesting permission will also end on 1 July. The six-month working limitation was temporarily relaxed in January 2022 to address labour shortages during the pandemic.
Any work that is carried out before 1 July will not be counted towards the six-month limitation period. This means WHMs can work for any employer for up to an extra six months even if that work started before 1 July 2023.
On 31 May, the government announced the maximum age limit for Australians travelling to the UK on working holiday visas will rise, thanks to the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA) which came into force.
The UK's Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS) is currently restricted to those aged 18-30 years old inclusive for Australians. From 31 January 2024, this age limit will be extended by five years to 35 under the free trade deal.
Australians aged 18-35 will also be able to stay an extra year in the UK under the YMS, with the opportunity to extend the working holiday from two to three years if they choose.
From 1 July 2023, the age limit for UK citizens applying for working holidays in Australia will also rise to 35.
What other upcoming immigration changes do we know about?
The review of Australia’s migration system led by former public service boss Martin Parkinson, found that while some aspects are performing well, key areas are “broken”.
It delivered 38 “reform directions" for the government to consider and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has so far made two announcements.
Firstly, the minimum salary an applicant needs to receive sponsorship from an employer from 1 July has increased.
The Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) has not been raised since it was frozen at $53,000 a decade ago. It will jump to $70,000, where it would have been without the freeze.
“This is the first increase to the TSMIT in a decade. It is a down payment on the type of migration system the Albanese government wants to build,” Ms O’Neil said in a statement on the day the review was released.
The government had previously announced it will provide a permanent visa pathway for Temporary Protection (subclass 785) visa (TPV) and Safe Haven Enterprise (subclass 790) visa (SHEV) holders who held or applied for a TPV or SHEV before 14 February 2023.
Former deputy secretary of Australia's immigration department Abul Rizvi told SBS News both changes are positive.
“I think the clearing of the pathways to permanent residence for skilled temporary entrants is indeed a good step,” he said.
Referring to the TSMIT increase, Mr Rizvi said holding the minimum salary since 2013 was a “poor decision” that led to negative outcomes for migrants and Australians.
The migration review “tries to make the system more targeted, more efficient. And I think both of those things can only be good,” he said.
“I think it also highlights the role of immigration in Australia’s future and that’s also useful.”
What additional immigration changes were announced in the budget?
The government is investing an additional $630 million through the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force to improve the country's migration program and build on its "already strong" border and national security settings.
"These investments complement the government’s proposed vision for a targeted, simpler migration system that serves our national interests and helps migrants thrive in our society and economy," Ms O'Neil said in a joint statement with Immigration Minister Andrew Giles.
The government will return the planning level for permanent migration in 2023-24 to 190,000 places. It had previously been
increased to 195,000 in the Albanese government's first budget last October.
It will allocate 137,100 places (around 70 per cent) to skilled migrants, in order to address persistent skill shortages. This is down slightly from 142,400 places in the 2022-23 program.
There will be 52,000 places allocated to the family stream, which is predominately made up of partner visas.
Partner and child visas will remain demand-driven.
Visa types set for a hike include visitor, working holiday, work and holiday, training, temporary activity, and temporary work short stay specialist.
The application fee for a visitor visa subclass 600, which will affect tourists, is set to increase alongside the student 500 visa, which affects international students, and the working holiday visa, the type used by backpackers.
The Pacific Engagement Visa and Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will not be affected by the fee hike.
The government said it would use the $665 million raised from fee hikes over five years to improve visa processing times and “other government priorities”.
This includes $75.8 million over two years to "extend the current surge in visa processing resources" and $50 million over four years (and $15.3 million per year ongoing) for extra enforcement and compliance activities "to maintain the integrity of the migration system".
The review found Australia’s migration program is failing to attract the most highly-skilled migrants and enable businesses to efficiently access workers. At the same time, it found “clear evidence of systemic exploitation and the risk of an emerging permanently temporary underclass”.
Australia’s visa settings have “unintentionally enabled a cohort of migrants to become permanently temporary” the review stated.
Among its reform directions is a three-tiered assessment system, fewer visa types, a focus on holding onto international students, and changing Australia’s points system to select migrants who will likely make the “greatest long-term economic contribution”.
Migration lawyer Rebecca MacMillan from law firm Holding Redlich welcomed the review and reforms as being broadly “sensible” but warned there is a long road ahead.
“It’s hard to know how quickly all this will happen,” she said.
“The recommendations would need some serious thought around how they will be introduced.”
Some of the proposals outlined in the government’s migration strategy include building a mainstream temporary skilled pathway - using an improved approach to determining the skills needed and “doing away with outdated, inflexible occupation lists” - providing a fast, simple pathway for specialised, highly skilled workers and broadening the program to encompass all skill levels.
The government will conduct consultation in May and June, with plans to release the final migration strategy later this year.
Mr Rizvi agreed that any further changes will take time.
“I think what we can expect … is even further changes beyond that [the budget] as the government works out the details of how to implement some of the recommendations," he said.
Is Australia welcoming more migrants?
The budget forecasts net overseas migration (NOM) will reach 400,000 this financial year, and 315,000 in 2023-24, reflecting the "one-off catch up from the pandemic".
NOM is the difference between incoming and outgoing migrants and includes both permanent and temporary residents. After the COVID pandemic prompted a sudden halt to overseas arrivals, October’s budget papers had tipped Australia’s NOM to recover to only 235,000 over this financial year and next.
The forecasts show a two-year acceleration that is well above initial estimates, before a period of stabilisation.
"The rebound in temporary migration following the reopening of Australia’s international borders was initially slow but has recently started to recover at a faster rate," the budget says.
"This strength in migration and population growth is expected to be temporary, with migration forecast to largely return to normal patterns from 2024–25."
NOM is forecast to dip to 260,000 in 2024-25, and continue at that rate in 2025-26 and 2027-27.
Ms O’Neil has previously insisted the government’s strategy was “not about more people”, while deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley has accused Labor of pursuing a “big Australia” policy.
Mr Rizvi said the surge in net migration was driven by two factors - a series of COVID-era-related migration policy settings, and a “really hot labour market”.
“Put those two together and it was almost inevitable that net migration would surge,” he said.
He said what will happen in future is another matter, as a series of steps are being taken to tighten the system and COVID policy settings are wound back.
Source: SBS News