Along with funding measures, a key budget night announcement
in the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio was the release of planning
figures for Australia’s two programs for receiving permanent migrants—the
Migration Programme for skilled and family entrants and the Humanitarian
Programme for refugees and others in humanitarian need. Planning levels for
2015–16 keep both of these programs at exactly the size they have been for the
past several years. However, there will be some significant changes in the
composition, particularly of the Humanitarian Programme, reflecting some recent
changes in immigration and refugee policy. The 2015–16 Budget also provides for
an increase in visa application charges across a range of visas, and a move to
full cost recovery for citizenship costs.
The Government will provide 190,000 places for permanent
migration in 2015–16. This number has been the
same since 2012–13. The composition of the program also remains relatively
unchanged, with 128,550 places allocated for skilled migrants, 57,400 places
for family migrants and 565 places for the special eligibility program for
former residents who have maintained close ties with Australia.
This composition reflects the Coalition’s commitment to maintaining the focus
of the Migration Programme on skilled migrants, and limiting family migration
to around a third of the total program.
An interesting feature of the Minister’s Migration Programme
announcement is the statement that ‘at least 3,485 place [sic] will be provided
for Child category migrants outside the managed Migration Programme’
(emphasis added). When counted together
with the stated 57,400 places for family migration, these 3,485 places take the
total family migration allocation to 60,885, (the same figure allocated for
family migration last year) and bring the Migration Programme up to the stated
total of 190,000 places. These places are therefore clearly included in the
permanent migration planning figures and it is unclear what is meant by the
Minister’s statement that these places are outside the managed Migration
Aside from the program planning figures, the key budget
feature of relevance to the Migration Program is the announcement of an
increase in visa application charges (VACs) from 1 July 2015, and a move to
full cost recovery for citizenship costs from 1 January 2016. This measure is
expected to raise $437.1 million over four years.
The VAC increases will vary across visa categories, with some being increased
by only 2.3 per cent in line with inflation, while others will be
increased by 5, 10 or 50 per cent.
The Government reviews and increases VACs on a regular
basis, with increases usually in line with the Consumer Price Index. The last
general increase in VACs took effect on 1 September 2013, so for most visa
subclasses this will be the first increase in two years. The exception to this
is partner visa categories, which were increased by 50 per cent as of 1 January
2015. This was a revenue measure announced in the 2014–15 Mid-Year Economic
and Fiscal Outlook. Under the VAC increases
announced in the 2015–16 Budget, the VAC for onshore applications for partner
visas will not increase, but the fees for offshore applications will be raised
to bring them into line with the onshore fees. For those visa
subclasses, this will be the second increase in the VAC in seven months.
In addition to this revenue measure, the Government is
expecting to achieve savings of $168.1 million over four years through
efficiencies in visa processing and simplifying the skilled migration and
temporary visa programs. This will include consolidating visa subclasses in the
skilled migration and temporary visa programs. This is consistent with the
Government’s visa simplification agenda which has been in process for several
months. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection consulted with
stakeholders and in December 2014 released a proposed framework for the simplification
of skilled and temporary visa programs. Most of the budget
savings from this measure will be achieved over the forward estimates,
reflecting the fact that that the new visa framework will not be implemented
The Humanitarian Programme provides permanent visas for
refugees and others in humanitarian need. It is comprised of an offshore
component (for people resettled to Australia from other countries, either as refugees
referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or under the
Special Humanitarian Programme (SHP) for those subject to substantial
discrimination) and an onshore component (for those who arrive in Australia and
make a claim for protection). Program planning levels have hovered between
12,000 and 13,750 places since the mid-1990s, with a temporary increase to
20,000 places in 2012–13 before the Coalition brought it back down to 13,750 in
2013–14. The Coalition has
committed to increasing the Humanitarian Programme, but the increase will not
begin until 2017–18 when it will be 16,250 places, rising again to 18,750
places in 2018–19. There has been no
commitment made to maintain this increase beyond 2018–19.
For 2015–16 the Humanitarian Programme will remain at 13,750
places, with the Government committing to provide a minimum of 11,000 places
for the offshore component. This will leave around 2,750 places for those
granted protection onshore. The Government’s
commitment to reserving so many places within the Humanitarian Program for
offshore entrants is a result of it successfully negotiating the passage of its
legislation for the introduction of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe
Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs) in December 2014.
As temporary visas, TPVs and SHEVs are not counted under the Humanitarian
Programme. Historically, onshore protection visa grants have been numerically
linked to the offshore SHP, meaning that as onshore protection visa grants
increased, places under the SHP decreased. Now that people who arrived in
Australia as Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) are eligible only for a
temporary visa, and not a permanent protection visa, visa grants to IMAs will
no longer affect the number of places available under the SHP.
The Government has announced that it will provide additional
funding of $20.8 million in 2015–16 to provide support to non-IMAs under the
Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (ASAS). The 2014–15 Budget had allocated only
$5.3 million for the ASAS in 2015–16. This additional funding
will bring the 2015–16 allocation up to $26.2 million. However, this is only a
one year funding measure, and, after 2015–16, funding for the Scheme will
revert to around $5.1 million each year over the forward estimates.
The Government has stated that this measure will be partially offset by not
renewing federal grant funding of $140,000 per year for the Refugee Council of
Australia (RCOA). The removal of the RCOA’s funding was actually implemented in
2014–15 — the RCOA was advised of the decision two weeks after the 2014–15
Budget, which had included the funding. The decision not to
renew the RCOA’s funding continues to be treated by the Government as a saving,
with no money allocated over the forward estimates.
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Restoring
integrity to refugee intake, media release, 12 May 2015.
For example: S Morrison (Minister for Immigration and Border
to the Migration Institute of Australia National Conference, Canberra, speech,
21 October 2013.
P Dutton, op. cit.
The budget information in this article has been taken from the
following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget
measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16.
Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), Visa
application charges from 1 July 2015, DIBP, 12 May 2015.
Australian Government, Mid-Year
Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2014–15, p. 110
DIBP, op. cit.
paper: simplification of the skilled migration and temporary activity visa
programmes – December 2014, DIBP, Canberra, 2014.
J Phillips and E Karlsen, ‘Migration
and Humanitarian Programs’, Budget review 2014–15, Research paper
series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.
P Dutton, op. cit.
P Dutton, op. cit.
E Karlsen, J Philips and H Spinks, Migration
and Maritime Powers Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014,
Bills digest, 40, 2014–15, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.
Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements 2014–15: budget related paper no. 1.11: Immigration and
Border Protection Portfolio, p. 35.
Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.11: Immigration and
Border Protection Portfolio, p. 61.
Refugee Council of Australia, Government
removes Refugee Council’s core funding, media release, 30 May 2014.
All online articles accessed May 2015.
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