The level of immigration to Australia had the centre stage recently with the Federal Government announcing some of the most significant changes seen in the recent years, including slashing the permanent intake for the first time in nearly a decade.
Some of the most significant changes to Australia's immigration system in recent years took affect in 2019.
Immigration cap lowered
Following months of posturing on the issue of growing congestion in Sydney and Melbourne, the Federal Government in March 2019 cut back Australia's annual permanent immigration intake to 160,000. The intake had been capped at 190,000 since 2011 but the actual intake fell to just over 162,000 in 2017-18 for the first time in over a decade.
- The cap on Australia's annual immigration intake has been lowered to 160,000
- Two new regional visas have been introduced with 23,000 visa places reserved for the regions
- Migrants willing to settle in regions are offered incentives, including extra points
The impact of the overall cut will be absorbed by Skilled Independent visas that allowed people to live and work anywhere in Australia. The annual quota of this subclass has been slashed from over 43,000 to nearly 18,000 – a move that has temporary residents in Australia worried that it might force a prolonged temporary residency period on them.
The government said the cap would be maintained for the next four years.
New regional visas
The government also announced an increase in the number of visa places for regional Australia with 23,000 skilled visas being reserved for those willing to live and work in the regions.
The two new provisional regional visas introduced in November 2019 – Skilled Employer-Sponsored Visa and Skilled Work Regional Visa have 9,000 and 14,000 places respectively within the annual immigration cap of 160,000.
Visa holders of these subclasses are required to spend at least three years in regional areas in order to become eligible to apply for permanent residency, instead of two years. A new regional permanent visa will be introduced in 2022. They are also required to meet an income threshold in order to be eligible for a permanent visa.
International students are able to access an additional year of post-study visa if they study in an educational institute in the regions, outside of Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and southeast Queensland.
Extra points for skilled migration
Visa applicants sponsored or nominated for these regional visas have the benefit of five extra points towards their points test.
An additional 10 points for applicants with a skilled spouse and for those without a spouse are being made available. There are extra points for qualifications in STEM subjects as well.
New parent visa
The new Temporary Sponsored Parent visa applications are being accepted from 1 July 2019. The visa – first promised ahead of the 2016 federal election – is being made available this year after the legislation it was tied to passed through the federal parliament in October last year.
This visa is linked to a sponsorship framework under which Australian citizen or permanent residents have to first apply to become approved sponsors. Once they are approved as sponsors, their parents will be able to apply for the visa that will allow them to stay in Australia for a continuous period of up to five years with a single opportunity for renewal. The total number of visas issued is capped at 15,000 per year.
Citizenship changes abandoned
According to media reports, the Federal Government has abandoned the legislation that would have made migrants wait longer and prove they have competent English proficiency before they could apply for Australian citizenship.
After the Bill passed through the House of Representatives, it was struck off the Senate notice paper in October 2017 due to a joint opposition by the Greens, Labor and some crossbench senators.
Since then, the government had softened its stand on English requirements, scaling it down to ‘moderate’, but couldn’t get the required support to pass it in the Senate. The Courier-Mail reported that the government will not follow through with the changes.