Immigration - Migration and humanitarian programs

Budget Review 2009-10 Index

Budget 2009 10: Immigration

Migration and humanitarian programs

Harriet Spinks

The Government has once again announced the migration program planning figures in the context of the Budget, continuing a trend begun in the Rudd Government’s 2008–09 Budget. Prior to this, migration program figures were announced outside of the Budget context. The 2009–10 migration program will total 168 700 places, broken down into 108 100 skilled places, 60 300 family places and 300 places for special eligibility.[1] This represents a decrease from 2008–09 migration program planning levels, which were set at 171 800 places.[2]

As had been widely expected, the skilled migration program has been reduced for 2009–10, to 108 100 places. This follows cuts to the 2008–09 skilled migration program, from 133 500 to 115 000 places, announced in March 2009,[3] and brings the skilled migration program roughly back to 2007–08 levels, when 108 540 permanent skilled migration visas were granted. The cuts to the skilled migration program are a response to the current economic downturn and an expected increase in unemployment as the Australian economy slows.[4] However, the reduction in places for skilled migrants has been criticised by some business groups, who claim that it will slow Australia’s recovery from recession, and deprive the economy of much needed skills, labour and ultimately revenue.[5]

The reductions will target the general skilled migration category, rather than the employer-sponsored component of the skilled migration program. The Government’s intention is to shift the balance of the skilled migration program away from independent skilled migrants, who do not have a job lined up in Australia prior to migrating here, towards sponsored skilled migrants, who have already arranged employment prior to their arrival in Australia.[6] This helps to ensure that skilled migrants coming to Australia are being employed in industries that have the highest need, and are filling gaps that employers are struggling to fill locally. It also reduces the competition for jobs between Australian workers and independent skilled migrants who arrive in Australia without having employment already lined up.

In January 2009 the Government introduced changes to the skilled migration program for the second half of 2008–09 which meant that skilled migrants who were sponsored by an employer would be given higher processing priority than independent migrants. Priority processing was also introduced for people with skills considered to be in critical shortage in Australia, such as medical and some IT professionals, engineers and construction trade workers.[7] These arrangements will continue during 2009–10, in a further attempt to ensure that the skilled migration program is meeting the areas of most critical need in the Australian labour market.

Further changes to the skilled migration program to be phased in from 1 January 2009 affect those with trade level occupations applying under the independent (non-sponsored) skilled stream. The English language requirement these applicants must meet will increase from International English Language Testing System (IELTS) level five to IELTS level six (IELTS scores range from one being the lowest to nine being the highest). Additionally, from 1 January 2010 onshore applicants in this category will be required to undertake a job readiness test, in line with testing for offshore applicants. These measures are intended to ensure that independent skilled migrants have the skills required to compete in the Australian labour market.

The family stream of the migration program will be increased in 2009–10 by 3800 places, resulting in a total of 60 300 places being available for family migration. The increase is comprised of an additional 2500 places for partners, 1000 places for contributory parents, and 200 places for child visas. This relatively small increase is unlikely to result in any significant reduction in the long waiting periods experienced by many applicants for family migration, particularly as many of the family visa categories with the longest wait have not been allocated additional places. For example, the current waiting period for an applicant for a contributory parent visa is approximately 18 months to two years.[8] The additional 100 places allocated for this category will assist in reducing this waiting time. However, the current wait for a non-contributory parent visa is approximately 10 years, and no additional places have been allocated to help ease the pressure. [9] The increase in places for contributory parent visas is most likely intended to encourage more people to apply in this category, rather than the standard parent visa category. The difference between the two categories is cost—contributory parent visa applicants pay approximately $30 000 more than applicants for a regular parent visa.[10]

The humanitarian program for 2009–10 will be set at 13 750 places, with 7750 of these going to the special humanitarian program, and 6000 to the refugee component.[11] This represents an increase of only 250 places from 2008–09 planning levels, far fewer than refugee advocates had been hoping for. The number of refugees worldwide is increasing, a fact which has been acknowledged by the Government in its attempts to explain the recent increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.[12] In this context, refugee advocates had hoped that the Government would significantly increase the number of resettlement places available to humanitarian entrants.[13]

The Government has also announced that it will introduce a formal system of complementary protection, for people who do not meet the definition of a refugee set out in the 1951 refugee Convention, but who are nonetheless at risk of significant human rights abuses should they be returned home.[14] No detail regarding the form the new complementary system will take, or when it will be introduced, has been given.

[1].    C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Migration program: the size of the skilled and family programs, media release, Canberra, 12 May 2009, viewed 14 May 2009, 

[2].    The actual number of people who came to Australia under the 2008–09 migration program will not be known until the end of the program year.

[3].    C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Government cuts migration program, media release, Canberra, 16 March 2009, viewed 14 May 2009,

[4].    C Evans, Migration program: the size of the skilled and family programs.

[5].    P Maley, ‘Cuts could hold back recovery’, The Australian, 14 May 2009, viewed 18 May 2009,

[6].    Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), The 2009–10 skilled migration program, fact sheet, Canberra, May 2009, viewed 18 May 2009,

[7].    C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Migration program gives priority to those with skills most needed, media release, Canberra, 17 December 2008, viewed 14 May 2009,

[8].    DIAC, ‘Parent visa processing priorities’, viewed 15 May 2009,

[9].    DIAC, ‘Parent visa processing priorities’.

[10]. DIAC, ‘Parent Visa Charges’, viewed 15 May 2009,

[11]. C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Humanitarian program, media release, Canberra, 12 May 2009, viewed 14 May 2009,      

[12]. For example, see A Symonds, ‘Rudd defends his asylum policy’, Australian financial review, 25 April 2009, viewed 15 May 2009,

[13]. T Arup, ‘Boat puts pressure on visas’ The age, 12 May 2009, viewed 15 May 2009,

[14]. C Evans, Humanitarian program.