By Moustafa Daly
In one of the biggest shakeups to its immigration system in decades, Australia’s Home Affairs minister Clare O'Neil has announced a revamp to the country’s skilled migrant visa policies, among other measures, to attract and retain global talent and help propel the country’s economy forward.
“We are a truly great country with a fundamentally broken migration system,” said O’Neil in a speech at Australia’s National Press Club, referring to the inability of those on skilled migrant visas to pursue permanent citizenship, regardless of how long they’ve lived and worked in the country.
“Changes are necessary due to the overwhelming queue size and backlog of applications which are not manageable,” explains James Hall, director at ANZ Migrate, to Uglobal. “The current [ruling] labour party is historically aligned with worker unions which fits the focus on worker oriented visas.”
What are the changes to Australia’s skilled migrant visas?
Notable among the changes is raising the skilled migrants’ salary threshold from AUD 53,900 to AUD 70,000 per year starting July 1, 2023.
“This is the first increase in a decade and it’s a big deal. We [think] this is essential to ensuring this program is what it says it is; a skilled workers program not a guest worker program,” minister O'Neil explained.
Another dramatic change is the introduction of a clear path to permanent residency for all skilled migrants in Australia, which will be available to all such applicants by the end of 2023, she announced.
“This is about ending permanent ’temporariness’ and making sure that migrant workers can exercise their rights. We need to avoid policies and conditions that essentially give rise to people bouncing from one visa to the next and never understanding really whether they’ll get a chance to stay in Australia [permanently],” she further elaborated.
The announcement came after a review of the immigration policy was conducted by the government, which found that skilled migrants bring valuable benefits to the economy.
“The review has cited estimates that skilled independent migrants bring AUD204,000 in positive fiscal impact per migrant,” explains Hall.
The review has also found that Australia's immigration system is incredibly complex, comprising over 100 different visa categories, and that current visa requirements fail to effectively evaluate applicants' actual long-term capacity to contribute to the economy.
It also recommended that all international graduates in Australia be granted an immediate graduate visa to be able to pursue employment in the country straight out of college.
Are there anticipated changes to Australia’s investor and business visas?
The migration system review could also be a stepping stone to introducing changes to the country’s Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP) seeing that while the review found positive economic impact of skilled migration, it was found that ‘BIIP migrants bring an overall negative -A$80k per migrant,’ says Hall.
The BIIP is a nomination-based immigration program open to applicants that would be operating a new or existing business in Australia. It requires no investment from the applicant; only a nomination letter from an Australian state or government agency.
The BIIP had a quota of 9,500 open visas in the current fiscal year which is to conclude by end of June 2023.
“But following the budget on Tuesday 9th May, [they] have been reduced to 1,900 for 2023/24,” reveals Hall. “The current queue of BIIP applications was more than 32,000 at June 2022, so this represents longer processing times.”
The Australian government may be en route to introduce dramatic changes to this visa or scrap it altogether.
“Personally I'd like to see a revised program implemented,” states Hall, however he’s skeptical over whether the government sees any value in the program to keep it running in the long term.
On the other hand, the significant investor visa, which requires an investment of AUD5 million, is probably here to stay, albeit with changes to improve the benefits to Australia.
“[The government] did see greater value in the significant investor visa,” says Hall.
“The government will consider a new program at a future date, most likely focused on high level investment and entrepreneur pathways. If business owner pathways are included, it will likely focus more on business activities in Australia with high productivity and value,” he adds.
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