Budget 2011–12: Migration and humanitarian programs
Once again the Government has released its Migration and Humanitarian Program planning figures as part of the Budget process. In this Budget the planned intake for permanent migrants under the Migration Program for 2011–12 will rise across all categories to 185 000 places (an increase of 16 300). As has been the case for the last decade, the majority of places will be allocated to skilled entrants with skill stream places rising to 125 850 for 2011–12—an increase of 12 000 places from the previous year. Family stream places will also rise slightly to 58 600 (an increase of 4050) and special eligibility places will rise to 550 (an increase of 250).
These increases bring planning levels back in line with those announced during the 2008–09 Budget when the planned intake was 190 300. However, this figure was subsequently amended to 168 700 in response to the Global Financial Crisis. Therefore, the planning figure of 185 000 for 2011–12 is effectively the highest on record since 1969 when program planning figures also reached a high of 185 000. It is important to note that while Migration Program planning numbers are at similar levels to those of forty years ago, the balance of the program is now quite different, with the emphasis now firmly on attracting permanent skilled migrants (and temporary skilled workers) in order to meet Australia’s labour needs (the post-war focus was simply on boosting Australia’s population).
One of the notable announcements in this Budget is a decision to allocate $5.9 million over four years to implement a new model to select skilled migrants—the Skilled Migrant Selection Model. The model will be an electronic system whereby prospective applicants must first submit an expression of interest (EOI) before being invited to make a visa application. Expected to be introduced on 1 July 2012, this measure will mean that prospective independent or state/territory sponsored migrants applying after that date will be required to receive an invitation before they are able to lodge a visa application. Prospective applicants with an employer sponsor will not be required to submit an EOI. It would appear that this measure is designed to limit application numbers (and presumably reduce processing backlogs); cut down on processing times; allow for ‘quick and easy identification of prospective workers with the requisite skills and attributes, reducing advertising and recruitment costs to businesses’; and ‘deliver the skills Australia needs by matching the best and brightest migrants to the available places in the migration program’. In his budget press release the Minister states:
The new model concludes a series of reforms to ensure the skilled migration program is more focussed and efficient, demand-driven and tailored to employers' needs. Under this model, the government will be able to select migrants like a business manages its workforce – selecting the best candidates, altering the skill composition of its workforce, and speeding up or slowing down recruitment as circumstances change.
Other measures announced in the Budget include:
- an additional $13.9 million over four years to the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal to ‘manage the increase in caseload and case complexity’
- a provision of $0.6 million in 2011–12 for the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) to supplement base funding
- the implementation of a new General Skilled Migration Points test—with the cost to be met from within existing departmental resources and
- the implementation of Australia’s Multicultural Policy—with the cost also to be met from within existing departmental resources.
Mining companies and many other stakeholders have been generally supportive of the Migration Program Budget announcements. However, some argue that even with these reforms it is likely there will still be significant skills shortfalls in some sectors. The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) expressed several concerns. These included the need for enhanced support services to deal with the increasing numbers of temporary migrants in both regional and urban settings.
Regional skilled migration
In order to encourage skilled migration to the regions where skill shortages are particularly acute, the last two decades have seen the introduction of a variety of federal government measures designed to attract skilled migrants to regional and rural areas where employers have been unable to fill vacancies through the local labour market.
In this Budget there is a particular focus on regional skilled migration with the Government providing $4.8 million over four years to implement several measures (some of which will be met within the existing resources of the Department) to encourage migration to regional Australia. Some of the key measures include:
- Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS)—16 000 places will be specifically allocated to regional areas for the first time through the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme—part of the Employer Sponsored Program stream. Introduced in 1995–96, the RSMS is a key component in the push to attract migrants to regional areas. It enables employers in a designated RSMS area to nominate temporary residents already in Australia or applicants from overseas, to fill skilled vacancies for a minimum of two years. Successful nominees who are prepared to settle in these regions are able to apply to migrate permanently to Australia. There has been growing demand on the RSMS category in recent years with an increase of 35.2 per cent in lodgements in 2009–10 (the RSMS outcome in 2009–10 was 10 213, a 15.9 per cent increase on 2008–09).
- Skilled Migrant Selection Model—due to come into effect in July 2012, this model will allow prospective migrants to nominate their willingness to live and work in regional Australia. The model will enable state and territory governments and regional employers to access these expressions of interest and select skilled workers through a central database of prospective migrants. This measure (together with the recently introduced State Migration Plans), is designed to further assist the states and territories in addressing specific skill shortages and local labour market needs in the regions.
- Temporary (Long Stay) Business visas (subclass 457)—in this Budget, the Government has announced additional funding of $10 million over four years to prioritise the processing of visas. Through this funding the Government aims to halve processing times for 457 visas from the current median of 22 calendar days. The Government also announced it will fast track permanent residency for 457 visa recipients who have spent two years working in regional Australia and who have an employer willing to sponsor them for a further two years.
- Labour agreements: A labour agreement is a legal contract between the Australian Government and an employer which allows the employer to bring in skilled overseas workers to Australia on either a temporary or permanent visa. Labour agreements are designed to assist potential employers to sponsor a temporary worker where there are no other options available to them (for example, when the skill required by an employer is not included on the relevant list of approved occupations). In this Budget the Government announced two new labour agreements aimed at regional areas:
- Regional Migration Agreements (RMAs)—expected to commence in 2012, RMAs will be targeted at high growth regional areas where local labour is in short supply. Access to semi-skilled overseas workers will be negotiated where there is a ‘demonstrable and critical need’. It is proposed that once a designated local representative has negotiated an agreement with the Government, individual local employers will then be able to directly sponsor temporary workers under the terms of the RMA. Individual employers who sponsor overseas workers under an RMA-associated labour agreement will be required to demonstrate investment in the training of local workers
- Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMAs)—this agreement introduces a new temporary migration option specifically designed to address the growing skill needs of the resources sector. EMAs will be available to projects with capital expenditure of $2 billion and a peak workforce of 1500 workers. It is envisaged that these agreements will ‘streamline negotiation arrangements for access to overseas workers and guarantee fast processing times for visa applications’. The introduction of EMAs was recommended by the National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce in July 2010.
It remains to be seen what effect these measures will have on addressing skills shortages and encouraging migration to the regions. At the time of the 2006 Census the vast majority of migrants continued to reside in urban areas, particularly Melbourne and Sydney.
Since 1995–96, Humanitarian Program planning levels have hovered around 12 000 to 13 000 places (with a peak of 13 750 in the last two program years). In this Budget the Government has announced that the Humanitarian Program planned intake will rise to 14 750, consisting of 7000 (previously 6000) refugee places and 7750 Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) places.
This increase is a direct result of a bilateral agreement between Australia and Malaysia whereby the Australian Government has agreed to accept an additional 4000 Humanitarian Program entrants over four years at a cost of $216.4 million. Under this agreement 800 irregular maritime arrivals (arriving on the Australian mainland or at an excised offshore place) will be transferred to Malaysia for refugee status determination (at a cost of $75.9 million over four years). In exchange Australia will resettle 1000 refugees a year over four years from Malaysia (the additional 4000 places will only be available to refugees residing in Malaysia).
This agreement is being negotiated under the anti-people smuggling Regional Cooperation Framework agreed to during the fourth Bali Process conference held on 30 March 2011. Further details can be found in the ‘Responding to boat arrivals’ brief in this Budget Review.