• File Photo, Oct. 12, 2015 . (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)Source: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
The changes could have a major impact on the Australia's annual migrant intake.
By
Ben Winsor

6 Oct 2016 - 4:04 PM  UPDATED 1 Dec 2016 - 2:35 PM

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world apply to migrate to Australia, but only a select group make it through our annual intake process.

In September the Productivity Commission delivered a detailed report into Australia’s migration system – it included a major plan to overhaul Australia’s skilled migration scheme, the largest stream in Australia’s migrant intake.

Under the commission’s plan, partners and adult children would be assessed on their English ability, work skills, age and education in addition to the assessments currently made of the primary visa applicants.

This would inform decisions over which applicants to take.

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According to the commission, almost half of visas issued under the skilled migration stream are for secondary applicants. The Productivity Commission says there’s significant scope to use those applicants to raise the overall caliber of the intake.

Primary applicants without dependents would be given the maximum level of extra points under the commission’s plan.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection told SBS the government was considering the Productivity Commission’s recommendations and would respond “in due course.”

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The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia has welcomed the report, but disagrees with elements of its policy advice.

It says that by giving the maximum number of points to people without partners or adult children, the government would be incentivising people to come to Australia without any family networks – an often isolating experience.

“Migrating with family to a new country can assist in the settlement process, including making community connections, alleviating homesickness, and maintaining cultural practices,” the federation said, “this [is] a discriminatory measure which is antithetical to what is known about family support during migration.”

The commission’s report also recommended setting a minimum English language standard of ‘competent’ for both sponsored and independent skilled migrants, as well as lowering the 50-year-old age limit bring a younger demographic of migrants to the country.

Age is the most significant determinant of whether an immigrant will be a net contributor or net burden on the taxpayer, the report said. The younger the migrant, the better they are for the economy.

The Productivity Commission also said that skilled migration paths should be streamlined, so that employee-sponsored applicants and independent applicants faced the same assessments.

Currently, employee sponsored applicants face a lower bar, the commission said.

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The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia has raised concerns over imposing a stricter English language requirement.

“We recommend providing support to migrants to improve their English upon arrival, rather than imposing more stringent requirements,” the group said. “Narrowing requirements in this way may result in Australia discriminating against certain migrants who could make significant contributions to the country.”

The federation is also opposed to lowering the age-limits on the skilled migration scheme.

“Migrants in their 40s have a lot to offer Australia, and in recognition of this, we should not impose further discriminatory measures based on age,” the federation said.

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Despite finding room for improvement, the Productivity Commission said that immigration had a net positive impact on the Australian economy, providing new skills and a younger demographic profile to support the country’s aging population.

Originally the Productivity Commission’s report was part of a government deal with Senator David Leyonhjelm, who wanted the government to explore a purely fee-based entry system to Australia.

But while the report refuted the idea that selection and fees should be determined purely by what people are willing to pay, they also found significant issues with the current system.

The commission said that there was no reasoned or systematic approach to the way visa charges are set, with arbitrary decisions on fees and entry requirements made with little regard to any fact-based analysis.

The commission has called for more evidence, more data, and more community engagement.

It’s a response which will come as no surprise to thousands of Australian’s grappling with the current family visa system.

Partnership visas are hugely expensive for many of the young couples seeking to stay together in Australia, while parent visa options are limited to $47,000 fees or 30-year wait periods.

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