Recent public and political debate about the appropriate
size of Australia’s migration intake has renewed interest in migration policy. Each
year in the budget, the Australian Government establishes a planning level outlining
how many permanent residency visas to grant. These visas are allocated to the
Migration Program (for skilled and family visas) and the Humanitarian Program.
This is the Australian Government’s key policy lever to influence the rate of
immigration to Australia.
In 2018–19, the planning figure for the Migration Program
remains unchanged at 190,000 visas, marking the seventh consecutive year this
figure has been used. This was announced in the
Regional Australia ministerial budget statement, unlike in past years where the
figure was in the Department of Home Affairs Portfolio Budget Statement. This continues
the highest planning level on record.
While the headline planning figure has not changed since
2012–13, a number of recent policy decisions are changing the composition and
actual size of the Migration Program. The planning level itself has changed
from a target to a ceiling, as noted in Minister Dutton’s media release for the
2017–18 Budget. In 2016–17, for the first
time, there was a large discrepancy between the planning level and the number
of permanent residency visas granted. It may be the case future
discrepancies exist for 2017–18 and into the forward estimates period.
A new visa category for New Zealand citizens, announced in
February 2016, will see additional long-term Australian residents on temporary
visas transition to permanent residency. These people will be
counted within the 190,000 visa planning level. The Department of Home Affairs
has confirmed over 10,000 visa applications have been submitted under the New
Zealand pathway in 2017–18, meaning a greater share of visas in the Migration
Program will now be allocated to people already in Australia.
This will change the composition of who receives a permanent visa, with fewer
people who live overseas directly gaining a permanent visa. Further, broad
policy change to temporary skilled worker visas has resulted in a sharp drop in
new visa applications. Over the forward
estimates period, both of these policy decisions will place downward pressure
on the rate of net overseas migration.
The planning level for the 2018–19 Humanitarian Program will
increase to 18,750 places, up from 16,250 in 2017–18. This was announced and
funded in the 2015–16 Budget. This will be the second
largest Humanitarian Program since the Hawke Government.
The Department of Home Affairs Portfolio Budget Statement also introduces the
word ‘ceiling’ for the Humanitarian Program. This was previously not
the case. In addition, the number of places in the Humanitarian Program is not
stated, whereas it was in previous Portfolio Budget Statements.
Retirement category visas
The 2018–19 Budget includes the establishment of a new
pathway to permanent residency for holders of retirement category visas, a visa
for self-funded retirees who have no dependents.
This will be achieved by regulatory amendments. To maintain the overall
planning level, people who hold a retirement visa will be allocated a
proportion of visas that would have otherwise been granted to people who have
applied for parent visas. This will likely increase waiting periods for parent
visas, which are currently between six and 30 years.
In addition, as people who hold retirement visas already live in Australia, and
as most people who gain a parent visa currently live outside of Australia, this
change will reduce the number of new migrants to Australia. 
Migration, population growth and
A number of commentators have noted the importance of
population growth, and immigration flows, to economic growth and fiscal projections
in the Budget. A recent joint Treasury
and Department of Home Affairs report concluded the net fiscal impact of the
2014–15 migrant cohort (the Migration Program, the Humanitarian Program and
temporary skilled visa program) is $9.7 billion over 50 years.
The fiscal effect of new migrants was noted by the Treasurer recently in the
context of the debate about the appropriate size of the Migration Program.
It can be difficult to project net overseas migration (NOM) trends.
NOM is the net gain or loss of population through people arriving to or
departing Australia. For example, in the 2017–18 Budget, the NOM projection for
2017 was 209,018 whereas the actual figure was 242,600, an increase of
16 per cent on the projection.
Table A.2 in Budget Paper No. 3 shows the assumptions
for NOM in the 2018–19 Budget. The assumptions show NOM gradually falling from 234,600
in 2018 to 221,400 in 2021. Variations from these
assumptions would necessarily flow through to a range of projections in the
Budget, including GDP growth and the underlying fiscal conditions.
The NOM budget assumptions over the forward estimates represent
a decline from current NOM trends. The most recently available Australian
Bureau of Statistics data show in the 12 months to 30 September 2017, the
preliminary estimate for NOM was 250,100, a 15.4 per cent increase compared to
the previous 12 month period. This level of NOM
represents 63 per cent of Australia’s population growth.
Other migration and associated
As part of the Stronger Rural Health package, the Australian
Government is reducing the number of visas granted to overseas trained doctors
to around 2,100 per year. This reduction in visas will redirect $415.5 million
over the forward estimates into other health policy priorities. This is the
largest saving in the Budget. Australian trained
doctors are being encouraged into areas of shortage via a variety of new
policies to make up for the reduction in overseas trained doctors.
A new fund for training Australians, the Skilling
Australians Fund (SAF), was introduced in the 2017–18 Budget.
The SAF imposes a levy on employers who sponsor temporary and permanent skilled
migrants. A new measure in the 2018–19 Budget provides for a series of employer
refund and exemption provisions. The Australian Government expects to forego
$105.1 million over the forward estimates, resulting in an equivalent reduction
in payments to state and territory governments via the SAF. The Law Council
recommended the Australian Government provide further clarity and consideration
for levy refunds in their December 2017 submission on the legislation.
This change will require legislation.
Restrictions on recent humanitarian migrants accessing full jobactive
support are being extended from 13 weeks to 26 weeks, generating savings
of $68.1 million over the forward estimates. The Australian Government says
this is to ‘improve the sequencing of services’ and to promote language
services for new humanitarian migrants to Australia. The Minister for
Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge, recently highlighted the
importance of getting new arrivals into work: ‘Our goal should be that people
arrive here and immediately have a place to work ...the best place to integrate
is in the workplace’.  One concern with this
measure is that it could impede some new arrivals who are job ready from
entering the workforce.
Operation Sovereign Borders and
Additional funding for detention, offshore processing and
border protection has been a strong focus of recent Budgets. The 2018–19 Budget
provides an additional $62.2 million for two years for Operation Sovereign
Borders. There are four sub-components of this measure, including offshore
resettlement arrangements and regional cooperation initiatives. However the
funding breakdown is aggregated into one figure.
The Department of Home Affairs Portfolio Budget Statement
notes expenses for Irregular Maritime Arrival Offshore Management is expected
to halve from $759.9 million in 2018–19 to $378.4 million in 2019–20.
Similarly, expenses associated with regional cooperation are projected to fall
from $91.1 million in 2018–19 to $47.3 million in 2019–20.
This is likely due to an expected smaller number of people being in offshore
management and a draw down on projects facilitating regional cooperation,
however an explanation is not provided in departmental budget documents. As the
estimated actual expenditure on Irregular Maritime Arrival Offshore Management
was double the forecast for 2017–18, these figures may be subject to change.
The budget figures in this brief have been taken from the following
document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget
measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19.
M McCormick (Deputy Prime Minister) and J McVeigh (Minister for
Regional Development, Territories and Local Government), Regional
Australia–a stronger economy delivering stronger regions 2018–19,
ministerial budget statement, 2018, p. 115.
J Phillips and J Simon-Davies, Migration
to Australia: a quick guide to the statistics, Research paper series,
2016–17, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2017.
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), 2017
Budget–immigration and border protection, media release, 9 May 2017.
183,608 permanent visas were granted in 2016–17 for a planning level
of 190,000. See H Sherrell, ‘Behind
the numbers–the 2016–17 Migration Programme’, FlagPost, Parliamentary
Library blog, 24 November 2017.
Department of Home Affairs, ‘An
additional pathway to permanent residency for New Zealand citizens’, Fact sheet and Frequently asked questions, Department
of Home Affairs website.
Department of Home Affairs, correspondence with the Parliamentary
Library, April 2018.
H Sherrell, ‘Assessing
the effect of recent 457 visa policy changes’, FlagPost, Parliamentary
Library blog, 12 January 2018.
P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Restoring
integrity to refugee intake, media release, 12 May 2015.
Phillips and Simon-Davies, op. cit.
Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements 2018–19: budget related paper no. 1.10: Home Affairs Portfolio,
Australian Government, Budget
measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19,
Parliamentary Library calculations based on Department of Immigration and
Border Protection (DIBP), 2016–17 Migration Programme
report, pp. 14–15.
Ibid., p. 3.
See M Janda, ‘How
the Government’s surplus plan locks in high immigration’, ABC News,
9 May 2018; and J Sloan, ‘Optimistic
forecasts crowd out an immigration fix’, The Australian, 9 May 2018,
The Treasury and Department of Home Affairs, Shaping
a nation: population growth and immigration over time, , Canberra,
2018, p. 35.
S Morrison (Treasurer), Interview
Neil Mitchell, 3AW, Immigration, corporate tax cuts, petrol prices, transcript,
21 February 2018.
Australian Government, Budget measures:
budget paper no. 3: 2017–18, p. 88 and Australian Government, Budget
measures: budget paper no. 3: 2018–19, p. 84.
Ibid., p. 84.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australian
Demographic Statistics, Sep 2017, cat. no. 3101.0, ABS, Canberra, 2018.
Australian Government, Budget 2018–19:
budget overview , Appendix D, p. 36.
For more detail on these policies, see M Biggs, ‘Rural Health Workforce’,
Budget review 2018–19, Research paper series, 2017–18, Parliamentary
Library, Canberra, 2018.
For more detail on the Skilling Australians Fund, see H Ferguson, ‘Tertiary
education’, Budget review 2018–19, Research paper series, 2017–18,
Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2018.
Law Council of Australia, Submission
to Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment, Inquiry into the
Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2017, and the Migration
(Skilling Australians Fund) Charges Bill 2017 [provisions],
22 December 2017, p. 6.
A Tudge (Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs), The
integration challenge: maintaining successful Australian multiculturalism,
speech to the Menzies Research Centre, Canberra, 7 March 2018.
Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements 2018–19: budget related paper no. 1.10: Home Affairs Portfolio,
Ibid., and see Australian Government, Portfolio
budget statements 2017–18: budget related paper no. 1.11: Home Affairs Portfolio,
All online articles accessed May 2018.
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