Migration and humanitarian programs
For a third consecutive year the Government released its immigration planning figures in concert with its Budget announcements. This year’s migration program planning figures were delivered in the context of heightened public debate about the sustainability of Australia’s population growth and the role of Australia’s immigrant intake. However, the overall size of both the Migration Program and the Humanitarian Program for 2010–11 remains unchanged from the previous year, at 168 700 places for the Migration Program and 13 750 places for the Humanitarian Program.
While the overall size of the Migration Program remains unaltered, its composition has been modified to favour skilled migration, with 113 850 skill stream places, 54 550 family stream places and 300 special eligibility places.
After increasing the family stream of the Migration Program by 3900 places in 2009–10, in this Budget the Government has announced that it will be reduced by a further 5750 places—a reduction of approximately 9 per cent on the previous year’s family migration planning level. The increase in family stream places in 2009–10 was intended to provide more opportunities for family reunion. This year, however, the Government has instead emphasised the availability of temporary visas that enable people to visit relatives in Australia. However, one such temporary visa class, the Sponsored Family Visitor visa (subclass 679), is conditional on the lodgement of a bond, the cost of which may prove prohibitive for some sponsors, imposed at the discretion of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).
While it is unclear which elements of the family stream will be cut as a result of the reduction in places, the reduction could conceivably exacerbate existing pressures on certain parts of the family migration program. For example, applicants for non-contributory parent visas continue to face a ten-year wait for visa grant consideration, after being allocated a queue date. The federal Opposition has for some time been advocating a reduction in the family stream. In contrast, the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) has described the reduction in the family stream in this year’s Budget as, ‘highly disappointing, with family reunion being a key form of settlement support for migrants ...’.
There has been an increase overall of 5750 places in the Skilled Migration Program as the composition of the Skilled Migration Program has been changed to increase employer-sponsored skilled migration places by 9150 places and reduce the General Skilled Migration (GSM) program (for independent migrants) by 3600 places. This expansion of employer-sponsored migration is consistent with the turn to ‘demand driven’ skilled migration announced by the Government in December 2008 in the context of the global economic downturn. It also serves to support major reforms that have been made to the skilled migration program since that announcement.
The first set of reforms came into effect in January 2009, when the Government revised skilled visa processing priorities to accord highest priority to employer and state or territory sponsored visas, and developed a Critical Skills List (CSL) for independent skilled visa applicants. The latest major reforms to the skilled migration program, announced on 8 February 2010, tightened eligibility requirements for the GSM, including through:
- the cancellation of approximately 20 000 GSM applications lodged before September 2007 under less stringent eligibility requirements
- the introduction of a new, more targeted, Skilled Occupations List (SOL) (to replace the previous SOL, the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL), and the CSL)
- proposed amendments to the Migration Act 1958, empowering the Minister to cap the number of visas that may be granted to applicants in any one occupation and
- a review of the points test used to assess applicants under the GSM program.
The February 2010 reforms, along with the changes to the Skilled Migration Program planning levels for 2010–11, are aimed at ensuring that Australia’s permanent skilled migrant intake is ‘more responsive to the needs of industry and employers and better addresses the nation’s future skill needs’. As a result of the anticipated reduction in the number of GSM applications, flowing from the tightening of GSM eligibility requirements, the Government estimates it will forgo $268.3 million over five years in revenue associated with visa charges. At the same time, the Government also indicated that it will provide $33.0 million over five years to implement the announced reforms to the GSM program, covering costs such as departmental expenses ($18.6 million over four years), and visa application charge refunds ($14.4 million in 2009–10). DIAC’s existing resources will be reprioritised from 2010–11 to fully offset the cost of this measure.
The Humanitarian Program planning figures for 2010–11 remain unchanged from the planned intake for 2009–2010, which included a 250-place increase on the previous year’s planning level. This planning level has been maintained despite ongoing calls from refugee advocacy groups to increase the size of the Humanitarian Program, particularly through an expansion of the offshore resettlement component of the program. Once again, the 2010–11 Humanitarian Program comprises 6000 refugee places, predominantly filled by refugees referred to Australia for resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and 7750 places in the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP), which includes refugees in Australia who are granted protection visas. Similar to the previous year, resettlement in 2010–11 will again focus on refugees from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, with a particular focus on refugees in protracted situations, such as the Bhutanese in Nepal.
On 9 April 2010, following a significant increase in the numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat over the preceding months, the Government announced that it would suspend the processing of new asylum applications from Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals, for three and six months respectively, in response to evolving conditions in both countries. The Government indicated that as a result of the suspension and the outcomes of UNHCR reviews of the situations in both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan it is likely that in future a greater number of Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum claims will be refused. Sri Lanka and Afghanistan were among the top three countries of citizenship for people found to be refugees and granted onshore Protection visas in 2008–09; and 847 Afghani refugees (the third largest group after Iraqis (2874) and Burmese (2412)) were resettled under the offshore component of the Humanitarian Program in 2008–09. The suspension may therefore have an impact on the outcomes of the Humanitarian Program for 2010–11, either with respect to the size or composition of the humanitarian intake, although it is unclear at this stage what that impact will be. While the Government has acknowledged that the number of asylum seekers affected by the suspension is growing, it has yet to outline details of a processing strategy for when the suspension is lifted.
The Government announced that it will almost double its funding to the Australian Red Cross for administering the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, from $5.6 million in 2009–10 to $10.1 million in 2010–11. The Scheme provides a range of services, such as income support, general health care, casework support and referrals, to eligible asylum seekers who are awaiting decisions on onshore protection visa applications. The Scheme’s funding will be increased for four years in response to increases in the number of people seeking assistance under the Scheme.
The Government has also announced a new grant of $140 000 per year to the Refugee Council of Australia, for the provision of advice on the views of the refugee and humanitarian non-government sector in Australia on matters such as resettlement and onshore protection, and on humanitarian settlement in Australia. This grant is to be funded from the Department’s existing resources within the Grants for Community Settlement Program. The Budget does not provide details about the terms on which this grant will operate.
Two existing grants programs, the ‘Diverse Australia’ program and the ‘National Action Plan to Build Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security’, will be consolidated to form the new ‘Diversity and Social Cohesion’ program, a measure which the Government estimates will provide savings of $1.1 million over four years.
. S Peatling, ‘Debate on population targets immigrants’, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 January 2010, http://www.smh.com.au/national/debate-on-population-targets-immigrants-20100123-mrni.html; J Breusch, ‘Rudd urged to cut immigration’, Australian Financial Review, 20 January 2009, p. 3, viewed 13 May 2010, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2FEIOV6%22; andM Pascoe, ‘Population policy clock ticking’, The Age, 22 March 2010, viewed 12 May 2010, http://www.theage.com.au/business/population-policy-clock-ticking-20100322-qpwv.html
. C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Budget: Government sharpens focus of skilled migration program, media release, 11 May 2010, viewed 12 May 2010, http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2010/ce01-budget-10.htm; and C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Budget: Humanitarian Program, media release, 11 May 2010, viewed 12 May 2010, http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2010/ce03-budget-10.htm
. Evans, Budget: Government sharpens focus of skilled migration program, op. cit.
. C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Budget: 2009–10—Migration program: the size of the skilled and family programs, media release, 12 May 2009, viewed 12 May 2010, http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2009/ce02-budget-09.htm
. Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), ‘Sponsored Family Visitor visa (Subclass 679)’, DIAC website, viewed 14 May 2010, http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/visiting-family/679/security-bond.htm
. DIAC, Parent visa processing priorities, DIAC website, viewed 14 May 2010, http://www.immi.gov.au/migrants/family/parent-visa-processing-priorities.htm#e See also, H Spinks, ‘Migration and humanitarian programs’ in Budget review 2009–10, Research paper, no. 33, 2009–10, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2009, p. 160, viewed 14 May 2010, http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/RP/2008-09/09rp33.pdf
. See S Lunn, ‘Places for family face 10 pc cutback’, The Australian, 12 May 2010, viewed 12 May 2010, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/politics/places-for-family-face-10pc-cutback/story-e6frgczf-1225865268780
. Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia(FECCA, 2010/11 Budget — a mixed bag, media release, 12 May 2010, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.fecca.org.au/Media/2010/media_2010034.pdf
. C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Migration program gives priority to those with skills most needed, media release, 17 December 2008, viewed 12 May 2010, http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2008/ce08123.htm
. C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Migration reforms to deliver Australia’s skills needs, media release, 8 February 2010, viewed 12 May 2010, http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2010/ce10006.htm The Government also temporarily suspended the lodgement of offshore applications under three skilled visa classes on 8 May 2010 to facilitate the implementation of the skilled migration program reform., C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Temporary suspension of certain offshore general skilled migration visas, media release, 8 May 2010, viewed 12 May 2010, http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2010/ce10035.htm
. The budget figures have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget Measures: budget paper no. 2: 2010–11, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010, pp. 3–12, 76 and 264–7. See also and C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Changes to Australia’s skilled migration program, media release, 8 February 2010, viewed 12 May 2010, http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/speeches/2010/ce100208.htm
. C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Budget: 2009–10—Humanitarian program, media release, 12 May 2009, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2009/ce03-budget-09.htm Also, the Government allowed a one–off increase of 500 refugee places specifically for Iraqis in 2008–09, due to their critical resettlement needs. See DIAC, Annual Report 2008–09, DIAC, Canberra, October 2009, p. 84, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/2008-09/html/outcome1/output1-2-2.htm
. Refugee Council of Australia, Australia urged to take greater leadership in refugee resettlement, media release, 24 February 2010, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/docs/releases/2010/100224_Intake_submission.pdf
. C Evans, Budget: Humanitarian Program, op. cit.
. Ibid.See also, C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Commitment to helping the forgotten refugees, media release, 20 June 2009, viewed 12 May 2010, http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2009/ce09057.htm
. C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Changes to Australia’s immigration processing system, media release, 9 April 2010, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/media-releases/2010/ce10029.htm; and J Phillips and H Spinks, Boat arrivals in Australia since 1976, Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2010, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/BN/sp/BoatArrivals.pdf
. Evans, Changes to Australia’s immigration processing system. op. cit.
. DIAC, Annual Report 2008–09, op. cit., p. 94; DIAC, ‘Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program’, Fact Sheet, 60, 4 November 2009, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/60refugee.htm
. DIAC, Not worth the wait – people smugglers using you, media release, 13 May 2010, viewed 14 May 2010, http://www.newsroom.immi.gov.au/media_releases/802
. Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2009–10: budget related paper no. 1.12: Immigration and Citizenship Portfolio, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2009, p. 50; Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2010–11: budget related paper no. 1.13: Immigration and Citizenship Portfolio, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010, p. 36.
. Australian Red Cross, ‘Asylum seeker assistance scheme’, Red Cross website, viewed 13 May 2010, http://www.redcross.org.au/ourservices_aroundtheworld_tracingrefugeeservices_ASAS.htm
. Portfolio budget statements 2010–11, Immigration and Citizenship Portfolio, op. cit., pp. 68–9.