Migration and Humanitarian programs

Budget Review 2015–16 Index

Harriet Spinks

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.

Migration Programme

The Government will provide 190,000 places for permanent migration in 2015–16.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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).[4] 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 Programme.

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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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 until 2016–17.

Humanitarian Programme

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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.


[1].          P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Restoring integrity to refugee intake, media release, 12 May 2015.

[2].          Ibid.

[3].          For example: S Morrison (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Address to the Migration Institute of Australia National Conference, Canberra, speech, 21 October 2013.

[4].          P Dutton, op. cit.

[5].          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.

[6].          Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), Visa application charges from 1 July 2015, DIBP, 12 May 2015.

[7].          Australian Government, Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2014–15, p. 110

[8].          DIBP, op. cit.

[9].          DIBP, Proposal paper: simplification of the skilled migration and temporary activity visa programmes – December 2014, DIBP, Canberra, 2014.

[10].       J Phillips and E Karlsen, ‘Migration and Humanitarian Programs’, Budget review 2014–15, Research paper series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.

[11].       P Dutton, op. cit.

[12].       P Dutton, op. cit.

[13].       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.

[14].       Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2014–15: budget related paper no. 1.11: Immigration and Border Protection Portfolio, p. 35.

[15].       Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.11: Immigration and Border Protection Portfolio, p. 61.

[16].       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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