The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) recently released the 2016–17 Migration Programme report. The Migration Programme is the collective name given to permanent residency visas (with the exception of the humanitarian category). The report provides information on the number and type of visas granted.
In the Budget process, the government of the day determines how many permanent residency visas will be made available. This is known as the planning figure. As the chart below shows, over the last decade the planning figure has traditionally acted as a target, with the number of visas granted largely matching the planning figure.
Sources: Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Historical Migration Statistics, 2015–16 Migration Programme Report, 2016–17 Migration Programme Report
Unlike previous years, the number of permanent visas granted in 2016–17 is substantially different from the planning figure. There were 183,608 permanent residency visas (non-humanitarian) granted, following a planning figure of 190,000. The discrepancy of 6,392 is four times larger than the entire difference across the previous decade.
DIBP has clearly met the relevant delivery indicator in their Portfolio Budget Statement (PBS), ‘delivering the migration program within planning levels set by the Government’ (p. 39). In previous Budget documents, the planning figure has been described as ‘up to’ or has been proceeded by a ‘<’ symbol (see p. 27 of the 2011–12 PBS, or p. 63 of the 2015–16 PBS for examples). Yet in practice, this caveat has been irrelevant given the number of visas typically matched the planning figure.
There is no explanation or commentary in the latest report to explain the large difference between the planned and outcome figure for 2016–17.
However, looking at the various permanent visa categories in 2016–17 helps highlight where the difference occurred:
|State and Territory and Regional Sponsored
|Business Innovation and Investment Programme
Source: Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 2016–17 Migration Programme
The Skilled Independent and State and Territory and Regional Sponsored categories make up the majority of the difference. These two categories are commonly known as ‘points-tested’ categories, where the person applying for a visa does not require an employer to sponsor them. The Parent category is the other major category with a large difference.
The difference between the planned figure and the outcome figure is interesting for a number of reasons. There appears to be a change in approach, however, as noted, this has not been publicly explained. Further, each of these categories has a large number of pending visa applications—the visa ‘pipeline’.
There are 19,150 visa applications in the pipeline for the Skilled Independent category, 13,740 visas in the pipeline for the State and Territory Sponsored category, and 88,243 visas in the pipeline for the Parent category (this includes both the Non-Contributory Parent and Contributory Parent visa categories).
These pipelines appear to rule out a lack of demand from potential migrants as an explanation for why there is a difference between the planned Migration Programme and the outcome for 2016–17, signalling this may be a specific policy or implementation decision by DIBP or the Australian Government.
We will have to wait and see whether this difference occurs again in the future or whether it was a one-off. However it raises a number of questions. The 6,392 planning places that were unfilled in 2016–17 are not rolled over into the following year, meaning waiting periods for people with pending visa applications are longer than they otherwise would have been.
In the case of Parent visas, this can have a material effect on people waiting for their visa to be decided. There are 49,735 non-contributory parent visas pending decision in the pipeline. If the planning figure remains 1500 and is met each year, the wait for someone who lodged their application on 1 July 2017 would be 33 years and 2 months. However if the outcome figure of 1,345 from 2016–17 were to continue as a trend, the wait increases to 37 years; about a 10 per cent increase. This demonstrates how decisions about visa processing, as well as visa policy, can shape migration trends.