Delivering the most consequential Federal Budget in decades, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has declared that the planning figure for the Migration Program will remain unchanged, as the country strives to recover from the economic blow delivered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taking a cautious approach, the Morrison Government has announced it will maintain the planned ceiling for the 2020-21 Migration Program at 160,000 places.
In a noticeable departure from the traditional migration composition, the government has placed greater emphasis on family stream visas, raising the planning level from 47,732 to 77,300 places on a ‘one-off basis’ for this program year.
“While overall the government has placed greater emphasis on the family stream, most of these are people already in Australia,” the Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge said in a joint media release with Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.
Overall the government will sharpen the focus on the family stream, predominately made up of partner visa category, which has been allocated a total of 72,300 places.
Former senior Immigration Department official Abul Rizvi said while this could be an indication of the government’s intention to clear the massive partner visa application backlog that currently sits at 100,000, it could also mean a significant cut for places in the parent category.
“While the family stream has been increased, it appears places for parents have been cut (presumably offset by an increase in temporary parent visas which are not counted as part of the program). Adding around 4,000 child visas, the overall family stream would be around 50% of the program,” said Mr Rizvi.
Budget papers also reveal that an English language requirement will also be introduced for partner visas and their permanent resident sponsors.
These changes will help support English language acquisition and enhance social cohesion and economic participation outcomes
Calling it a “shocker”, Melbourne-based migration agent Ranbir Singh said this could spell bad news for permanent residents intending to bring their partners to live with them in Australia permanently.
“It is a huge shock for permanent residents and their partners. We weren’t anticipating this development and would like some further clarity as to whether the same rule would also apply to Australian citizen sponsors as well,” he said.
Mr Singh, however, said that there is some reprieve for partner visa applicants and those who currently remain onshore and unaffected by the COVID-19 induced border closure.
“The government will also be prioritising onshore visa applicants and partner visa applicants where the relevant sponsor resides in a designated regional area. While the focus on onshore applications was expected, the fact that partner visa applicants with sponsors in regional areas will get priority is quite a pleasant surprise,” he said.
The budget papers reveal that the government will give priority to Employer-Sponsored, Global Talent, Business Innovation and Investment Program visas within the Skilled Stream.
As per the planning levels, the government has tripled the allocation of the Global Talent Independent (GTI) program to 15,000 places, a massive increase from the previous program year’s planning level where the government had set an objective to grant 5,000 visas.
Rupert Grayston, the director of standards and accreditation services at the Australian Computer Society that provides nominations for GTI applicants in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, that this is quite a significant increase for the fledgling program that is currently in its second year.
“This is a substantial increase for a program in its second year, particularly during a time of ongoing border restrictions. Awareness of the GTI program seems to be growing, and ACS is increasingly seeing evidence of a significant pool of candidates. It nevertheless remains to be seen whether such growth can be realised,” said Mr Grayston.
In addition, the government has also raised the allocation for the Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP) to 13,500 places.
“From 1 July 2021, the Government will streamline and improve the operation of the Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP). The Government will introduce changes to improve the quality of investments and applicants,” as per the Budget papers.
Impact on General Skilled Migration:
Summing up these changes, Adelaide-based migration agent Mark Glazbrook said an increase in allocation for partner and GTI scheme and a renewed focus on business and investor visas is bound to have a detrimental impact on the General Skilled Migration program.
“An increase in places for the spouse visa category (probably to clear the pipeline), a large increase in GTI and an increased focus on business and employer-sponsored visas will mean significantly lesser places for Australia’s General Skilled Migration program which could face cuts of up to 50%,” he said.
Net overseas migration:
The 2020 budget estimates reveal that Australia will suffer its first negative net overseas migration since the Second World War in a major blow to the country’s economy already bruised by the pandemic.
Net migration numbers are expected to fall from 154,000 in the 2019-20 financial year to a net loss of 72,000 in 2020-21 and 21,600 in 2021-22.
Dr. Liz Allen, a demographer at the Australian National University told that this could have far-reaching consequences for the nation’s future.
“Negative net overseas migration, as expected by the government, will see both the median age of the population and structural aging increase. A more accentuated aging population will have major impacts on the financial position of the country and threatens future socio-economic wellbeing,” said Dr. Allen.
She added that the young people and families, especially women, will be the “biggest losers” of Australia’s population and population-related expectations.
Visa Application Charge (VAC):
The Government will also offer Visa Application Charge (VAC) refunds, waivers or visa extensions to visa holders who have been unable to travel to Australia due to COVID-19.
This includes waiving the VAC for Working Holiday Makers and Visitors to boost tourism once the borders re-open.