Janet Phillips and Harriet Spinks
During the Budget each year the Australian Government
announces the number of places it intends to allocate for the next financial
year for people wishing to migrate permanently through Australia’s Migration Program
(for skilled and family entrants) and Humanitarian Program (for refugees and
other humanitarian entrants).
In the 2012–13 Budget, the planned intake for
the Migration Program was increased to 190,000 places—the highest level on
record. In this Budget, 190,000
places have again been set aside for the Migration Program, marking the sixth
year at this level. The majority of these
places are usually allocated to the skill stream—there will be 128,550 skill
stream places in 2017–18.
Planning levels for the Humanitarian Program have remained
at around 12,000 to 13,750 places since the 1990s (except for one allocation of
20,000 in 2012–13). In the 2015–16 Budget,
the Australian Government announced that the humanitarian intake would
gradually rise to 18,750 by 2018–19. The first instalment of this
commitment commences with an allocation of 16,250 places in 2017–18.
From 1 July 2017, 1,000 of the 16,250 places will be allocated to a new Community
Support Programme which replaces the Community Proposal Pilot (with 500
places) that has been operating since 2013. Under this program, individuals,
community groups and businesses are able to sponsor humanitarian entrants to
Australia and are required to provide financial support such as funding for visa
applications, airfares and resettlement services. It is estimated that this
measure will provide a revenue gain to the budget of $26.9 million over the
forward estimates. However, many stakeholders are critical of the program,
arguing that the 1,000 community support places should be in addition to the
16,250 humanitarian places and that the Government is ‘finding ways to
outsource its responsibilities’. It is also worth noting
that the additional 12,000 humanitarian places for people displaced by conflict
in Syria and Iraq (announced in September 2015) have now been filled and all
visas have been issued. There has been no
further commitment to provide additional places for refugees from Syria or Iraq
in this Budget.
The 2017–18 Budget includes an allocation of $1.4 million in
2017–18 for Strengthening Australian Citizenship Arrangements. Proposed
changes announced on 20 April 2017 include a requirement to pass a stand-alone
English language test, limitations on how many times an applicant can fail the
citizenship test (three times) and a requirement to provide evidence of
successful integration (employment, membership of community organisations and
school enrolment for example). Under the proposed
changes applicants must also be permanent residents for four years, extended
from the current one year. Many stakeholders are
arguing that these changes will make gaining citizenship much harder for
certain permanent residents—in particular, refugees and those from non-English
speaking backgrounds. Implementation of the
majority of the changes will require amendment to the legislation.
The 2017–18 Budget includes several measures of significance
for temporary skilled migrants and their employers after the Government announced
substantial changes to Australia’s temporary skilled migration program in April
2017. Some of the changes also
apply to the permanent skill stream.
Under these changes, the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa
(subclass 457) is to be abolished and replaced by a Temporary Skill Shortage
Visa (TSS) with higher application charges. Reforms to the existing 457 visa
category (for example relating to eligible occupations, validity period and
English language requirements) will be gradually introduced over the course of
2017 before it is abolished completely in March 2018. The new visa will be
comprised of two streams—Short Term (valid for two years and renewable onshore
only once) and Medium Term (valid for four years with a capacity for visa
renewal onshore and a permanent residence pathway after three years). There
will be tighter eligibility criteria, including a new two-year work experience
requirement for both streams and a tightened English language requirement for
the Medium Term stream. Occupation lists used for skilled migration visas are
to be renamed and significantly amended with 216 occupations removed and access
to 59 other occupations restricted. Of the remaining 435 occupations, 24 will
be restricted to regional areas. Implementation of some
of these changes may require amendments to the relevant migration regulations.
While these changes will primarily impact the 457 visa
category, some permanent visa categories will also be affected, in particular
the Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) visa (subclass 186) and the Regional
Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visa (subclass 107). New rules will include
requirements that these applicants must have higher levels of English language
competency, three years of work experience and not be over 45 years of age.
Applicants for the Skilled Nominated (subclass 190), the Skilled Independent
(subclass 189) and the Skilled Regional (Provisional) (subclass 489) visas will
also be affected by a reduction in occupations available to them in the amended
It is estimated that the measures targeting skilled visas will
provide a comparatively modest revenue gain to the budget of $47.6 million over
the forward estimates. However, the 2017–18 Budget also estimates a much more
significant gain to revenue of $1.2 billion over the forward estimates via a
new Skilling Australians Fund levy. Employers of certain skilled
migrants will be required to contribute to this fund from March 2018. The levy (of
varying amounts depending on the visa) must be paid by businesses with a
turnover of $10 million or more per year that employ skilled migrants on TSS, ENS
and RSMS visas. The levy will replace the current requirements for 457 visa and
employer nominated sponsors to meet one of two training benchmarks (either contributing
two per cent of payroll to a relevant industry training fund, or spending one
per cent of payroll on training for their Australian employees). The new Fund
has arisen from a recent independent inquiry into the integrity of the subclass
457 program (led by John Azarias) which recommended that the training
benchmarks be replaced by an annual training fund contribution and invested in
training programs managed by the Department of Education and Training.
The Government supported these recommendations in its response to the report.
For further detail on the Fund see the ‘Skills training’ brief included in this
Budget Review 2017–18.
Another measure in the 2017–18 Budget is related to the establishment
of a temporary sponsored parent visa to be introduced in November 2017. This
visa was an election commitment made by the Coalition during the 2016 election campaign,
and an invitation to provide feedback on the proposed visa was requested in a departmental
discussion paper released in September 2016. It is estimated that
this measure will provide a gain to the budget of $99.0 million over the
forward estimates. The visa will authorise parents of Australian citizens,
Australian permanent residents and eligible New Zealand citizens to stay in
Australia for three to five years. It will be possible to renew the visa
offshore, allowing a cumulative stay of ten years. However, visa recipients
will not be eligible to apply for a permanent parent visa onshore and health or
aged care expenses must be covered by the sponsoring child. The visa is being
introduced in response to concerns over lengthy waiting times and high costs
associated with existing parent visas. Some commentators are arguing that while
this visa will provide alternatives, it may also result in a ‘growing
population of elderly, non-English speaking migrants stuck on
Offshore processing and onshore
management of IMAs
Additional funding for detention and offshore processing of irregular
maritime arrivals (IMAs) has been a feature of each Budget over several years.
Actual spending in this area has varied significantly from budget forecasts,
with predicted declines over the forward estimates often not being realised,
and additional funding being provided in subsequent budgets. The 2017–18 Budget
continues this trend, with an additional $21.2 million being provided in
2017–18 only to fund offshore processing and resettlement arrangements. This
builds on the $61.5 million which was allocated for this purpose in the 2016–17
Budget, for 2016–17 only—that Budget did not predict that additional funding
would be required over the forward estimates. As in previous years, this
year’s Budget predicts that spending in this area will decline substantially
over the forward estimates, from $713.6 million in 2017–18 to $435.3 million in
2020–21. Budget Paper No. 2 notes
that the additional funding for this measure includes ‘funding to support the
closure of the Manus Island facility in Papua New Guinea, and of regional
processing activities in Nauru’. However, questions remain about how quickly
the processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru will be able to be closed, and
people resettled from the centres. Continuing uncertainty about the timing of
the resettlement arrangement with the United States, and the number of people
who will be resettled under that arrangement, suggest that the regional
processing centres may continue to require additional funding into the future.
In contrast to the additional funding allocated to the
offshore processing and resettlement of IMAs, the Budget predicts savings of
$46.8 million over five years, from 2016–17, in managing IMAs onshore. This is
to be achieved by ‘resolving the protection status of Illegal Maritime Arrivals
(IMAs)’, colloquially known as the ‘asylum legacy caseload’. This cohort
comprised around 30,000 IMAs who had arrived in Australia between 2008 and 2013
and not yet had their protection claims processed when the Coalition formed
Government in September 2013. The 2015–16 Mid-Year
Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) had allocated almost $500 million over four
years to support this caseload while their protection status was resolved.
The current Budget measure suggests that the Government expects the protection
status of the remaining caseload will now be resolved more quickly, and at less
cost, than was previously anticipated. In February 2017 the Department of
Immigration and Border Protection indicated that around 30 per cent of this
cohort had had their claims assessed, but around 11,000 people had not yet
submitted an application for protection.
The budget figures in this brief have been taken from the following
document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget
measures: budget paper no. 2: 2017–18, 2017.
J Phillips and E Karlsen, ‘Migration and Humanitarian Programs’, Budget review 2014–15,
Research paper series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), 2017
Budget—immigration and border protection, media release, 9 May 2017.
B Joyce (Deputy Prime Minister) and F Nash (Minister for Regional
Australia—driving our economy, ministerial budget statement, 2017, p.
J Phillips and E Karlsen, ‘Migration and Humanitarian Programs’, op. cit.
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border
Protection), Restoring integrity to refugee intake,
media release, 12 May 2015; and and P Dutton (Minister for Immigration
and Border Protection), Budget 2016: Strengthening our borders and boosting jobs and growth, media release, 3 May 2016.
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), 2017
Budget—immigration and border protection, op. cit.
Edmund Rice Centre, Turnbull
government shirks humanitarian obligations with new Community Support Programme,
media release, 10 May 2017.
S Morrison (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), The
Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crisis, joint media release,
9 September 2015; and P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and
Border Protection), 12,000 visas for Syrian and Iraqi refugees,
media release, 22 March 2017.
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Strengthening the integrity of Australian citizenship, joint media release, 20 April 2017.
B Doherty, ‘Refugees will be hardest hit by changes to Australia's citizenship
test, experts say’, Guardian (Australia), 21
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Putting Australian workers first, joint
media release, 18 April 2017.
Ibid., and Department of Immigration and Border Protection
(DIBP), Reforms to Australia’s temporary employer sponsored skilled migration
programme—abolition and replacement of the 457 visa, fact sheet, DIBP website.
Ibid., and DIBP, Reforms
to Australia’s permanent employer sponsored skilled migration programme,
fact sheet, DIBP website.
J Azarias, J Lambert, P McDonald and K Malyon, Robust
new foundations: a streamlined, transparent and responsive system for the 457
programme, An independent review into integrity in the subclass 457
programme, September 2014.
response to the independent review into the integrity of the subclass 457
programme, DIBP website.
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Enhanced
visitor visas for sponsored parents, media release, 21 June 2016; and
a temporary visa for parents: discussion paper, September 2016.
A Boucher, P Mares and H Sherrell, ‘A new temporary parent visa threatens to create second-class
Australians’, Guardian (Australia), 16
H Spinks and C Barker, ‘Immigration
and Border Protection Overview’, Budget review 2016–17, Research
paper series, 2016–17, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2016.
Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements 2017–18: budget related paper no 1.11: Immigration and
Border Protection Portfolio, p. 25.
B Doherty, ‘White House says US will take up to 1,250 refugees under Australian
deal’, Guardian (Australia), 1 February
For background on the ‘asylum legacy caseload’ see E Karlssen, J Phillips
and H Spinks, Migration
and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy
Caseload) Bill 2014, Bills digest, 40, 2014–15, Parliamentary Library,
S Morrison (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), Mid-year
economic and fiscal outlook 2015–16, p. 187.
Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Official
committee Hansard, 27 February 2017, p. 9.
All online articles accessed May 2017.
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