From changes to the partner visa pathway to the announcement of a new agriculture visa, here's everything you need to know about the visa and immigration-related changes in Australia in the new financial year.
Temporary visa holders employed in tourism and agriculture sectors can extend their stay in Australia, while onshore international students working in the disability, aged care, medical, agriculture, tourism and hospitality sectors can work more than 40 hours per fortnight.
These changes have been put in place to meet the demand for workers in some critical sectors while Australia's international border remains shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List has been expanded with 22 new occupations added to it.
- A new stand-alone agriculture visa will be introduced and extended to 10 ASEAN countries.
- Australian citizenship applications will cost more and new migrants will wait longer to access welfare.
The 2021-22 migration planning level is maintained at 160,000 places and will carry over the composition from 2020-21, including 79,600 places for the Skill stream.
"The Skill stream will continue to focus on visa categories that will help Australia’s economy rebound from COVID-19, with priority given to visa cohorts that drive economic growth, job creation and investment into Australia," a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs told SBS Radio.
The Business Innovation and Investment Program, Global Talent Program and Employer-Sponsored Program will be prioritised.
In 2020-21, the number of places available in the Business, Investment and Innovation Program had almost doubled to 13,500 places, while the Global Talent Independent program allocation tripled to 15,000.
However, the number of places allocated to these categories may change in 2021-22.
"There will be continued flexibility within the Skill stream to respond to uncertain health, border and economic conditions arising from COVID-19," says the spokesperson.
Founder and Principal Immigration Lawyer at Work Visa Lawyers Chris Johnston observes that the government treats the planning level as a cap and not a target.
“In terms of the 189 visa, the planning level is 6,500 visas, but only 1,690 invitations have been given until 21 April 2021. So, that means there is a lot of those visas still available, and there is not much time left.”
When it comes to the available places in the Family Stream, Chris Johnston says the number will remain the same at 77,300.
He says the Government’s temporary concession allowing offshore applicants to apply while staying onshore because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. This may reduce the processing times of existing partner visa applications.
Partner visa applications
However, Registered Migration Agent and owner of Migration Down Under Julie Williams is concerned that changes to the partner visa pathway may increase processing times.
Under the changes, the new process will be split into two steps, requiring Australian sponsors to apply and be approved as sponsors before their partners can apply for a visa.
"We don't have an indication of how long the processing timeframes could be to approve the sponsor's application," she says.
Another significant change is that migrants applying for the second stage Partner Visa Subclass 801/100 and their sponsors will need to pass an English language test.
These changes were introduced in the 2020-21 federal budget and are taking effect this year.
For the first time since the introduction of the Business Innovation and Investment Program in 2012, the government has made some significant changes to business and investment visas.
From 1 July 2021, the number of streams and subclasses in the program is being reduced to four from nine.
There is a higher assets and business turnover test for the Business Innovation stream, and visa holders in the investor stream are required to make an investment of $2.5 million, up from $1.5 million.
The $200,000 funding threshold requirement for the Entrepreneur stream has been scrapped and the pathway to permanent residency has been made easier.
The new agriculture visa
The federal government has announced a new agriculture visa that will be extended to 10 ASEAN countries.
The announcement was made after the Australian government agreed, under a Free Trade Agreement with the UK, to scrap a requirement for British backpackers to work on Australian farms for 88 days before extending their working holidays visa.
The new visa will be made available to workers from Thailand, Cambodia, Brunei, Myanmar, the Philippines, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia.
According to the Federal Agriculture Minister and Nationals deputy leader, David Littleproud, the visa will be made available by the end of this year.
The Government’s changes to the 408 COVID-19 Pandemic Event Visa aims to fix the labour supply issue during the international border closure.
Julie Williams says that tourism and hospitality have been added to the pandemic critical sector list, which is beneficial for onshore international students.
Student visa holders working in the tourism and hospitality sectors are temporarily allowed to work more than 40 hours per fortnight.
Other Temporary Activity Visa Subclass 408 holders employed in the agriculture sector can now stay in the country longer, Chris Johnston says.
They don't have to leave at the end of their term if they can demonstrate they've got ongoing agricultural work.
Julie Williams adds that visas for onshore pacific workers in regional Australia have also been extended till April 2022.
Expanded Priority Occupation list
Accountants, engineers, software developers and chefs are among 22 new occupations added to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List that was established in 2020 to fill critical skills to support Australia's economic recovery from COVID-19.
The list now has a total of 41 occupations available for employer-sponsored visas (Subclass 482, Subclass 949, Subclass 186 and Subclass 187). The occupations on the PMSOL are given priority processing.
While Australia's international border remains shut, temporary visa holders with a priority occupation can seek an exemption from travel restrictions.
Australian citizenship application fee increase
Starting 1 July 2021, anyone applying for Australian citizenship will have to contend with paying a higher fee.
The fee for applications for citizenship by conferral is rising to $490 from $285, an increase of 72 per cent.
Applications for Australian citizenship by descent will cost $315, up from $230.
Children aged 15 and younger included in a parent's application will continue to be processed for free. However, a child's standalone citizenship application will cost $300, up from $180.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said this is the first fee increase for citizenship applications since 2016.
"Based on existing fees, the Government is only recovering approximately 50 per cent of the costs of processing citizenship applications," Mr Hawke said in a statement.
The cost of citizenship applications remains comparable with other countries.
-Alex Hawke, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs
New migrants to wait longer to access welfare payments
Migrants becoming permanent residents from 1 January 2022 will have to wait for four years before accessing welfare payments.
According to the announcement made in the May federal budget, the Newly Arrived Resident Waiting Period for most payments, including the Carer Payment, Carer Allowance, Family Tax Benefit Part A and B, Parental Leave Pay, was being extended.
The waiting period to access JobSeeker, Austudy and youth allowance payments is already four years.