Budget Review 2022–23 Index

Dr Susan Love

Humanitarian Program

The Government will maintain the Humanitarian Program planning level at 13,750 places in 2022­–23 and over the forward estimates, unchanged from the previous Budget (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2022–23, p. 117). However, it has also announced an additional 16,500 places for Afghan nationals across 4 years from 2022–23 (4,125 per year).

The Government had announced on 21 January 2022 that it would commit places for Afghans within the permanent Humanitarian Program (10,000 places over 4 years from 2021–22) and the Family stream of the Migration Program (estimated at 5,000 places over those 4 years). The Department of Home Affairs Afghanistan update webpage currently states that 5,000 of the Humanitarian places are due to be filled in the 2021–22 year, leaving another 5,000 places available across 2022–23 to 2024–25 within the usual Humanitarian Program of 13,750 places in each year (refer also to evidence given at the Senate Estimates hearing on 14 February 2022, p. 53).

The 16,500 places in the budget measure are in addition to the 13,750 places in the annual Humanitarian Program. This would give Afghans 1,250 places within the Humanitarian Program until at least 2024–25 as well as 4,125 supplementary places each year until 2025–26 (plus the 5,000 places in the Family stream to 2024–25). Media reporting and stakeholder media releases indicate a generally positive response to the increase—advocacy groups had been calling for an additional intake of 20,000 places.

The most recent similar situation where Australia made additional places available on top of the Humanitarian Program allocation was in September 2015, when the Government announced it would resettle an additional 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq. These were permanent Humanitarian places allocated over two program years (the existing Humanitarian Program was also then at 13,750 places).

The budget measure (p. 117) comes with additional funding of $665.9 million over 4 years from 2022­–23 for the resettlement of Afghan nationals. The payments are across a range of departments, principally the Department of Social Services, which will see additional funding rising from $36.4 million in 2022–23 to $202.5 million in 2025–26. The increasing increments are likely in order to meet the costs of social security and humanitarian support services as more of the Afghan cohort arrives in the course of each year.

This additional funding builds on $28.8 million in funding already allocated for the 2021–22 and 2022–23 years from the 2021–22 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook ‘Settlement and Integration of New Arrivals from Afghanistan’ measure (p. 260).

Budget paper no. 2 also notes the Government will provide access to the 3-year Temporary (Humanitarian Concern) visa (subclass 786) for Ukrainians in 2021–22 and 2022–23 under the ‘assistance to Ukraine’ measure (p. 70). This commitment was announced on 20 March 2022. Being a temporary visa, this is not part of the Humanitarian Program. There does not appear to be any specific funding allocated under the measure, with the budget paper stating that costs will be partially met from within existing resources of the Department of Home Affairs, amongst others.

Holders of Temporary (Humanitarian Concern) visas are eligible for some humanitarian settlement services, such as Specialised and Intensive Services and the Adult Migrant English Program, but not the full range of services available to permanent humanitarian entrants and only limited other social security payments.

Migration Program

The overall number of places in the Migration Program also remains steady at 160,000 for 2022–23 (budget paper no. 2, p. 12). In both 2020–21 and 2021–22, the Family and Skill streams of the Migration Program were closely balanced, at 77,300 and 79,600 places respectively, due to the need to account for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related border closures preventing people arriving in Australia (Department of Home Affairs, The Administration of the Immigration and Citizenship Programs, (The Administration), ninth edition, February 2022, p. 23). In 2022–23, the focus returns to the Skill stream—consistent with the pre‑pandemic proportions—with 109,900 places allocated, giving the Family stream a total allocation of 50,000 places, the majority of which are for Partner visas: 40,500 places, as stated in the Minister’s media release. The remaining 100 places in the Migration Program are allocated to the Special Eligibility stream.

Partner visas, in particular, were a focus during the period of closed borders, with 72,300 places allocated in each of 2020–21 and 2021–22 (The Administration, p. 23). In 2020–21, there were 72,376 Partner visas granted, compared with 37,118 granted in 2019–20. However, as at 31 December 2021, only 22,937 visas had been granted out of the places for the current 2021–22 year. Budget paper no. 2 (p. 11) states that 10,000 of those 72,300 places will move from the Partner category to the Skill stream for the 2021–22 year, raising the level for that stream to 89,600 places.

Budget paper no. 2 (p. 11) states that this is due to a ‘sharp fall’ in the number of on-hand applications for Partner visas. The Administration (p. 31) states that there were about 59,500 applications on-hand as at 31 December 2021, which is still above the estimated number of 40,500 places to be granted in 2022–23, but is a significant decline from previous years including the level of 96,361 on‑hand applications in 2019–20 (Department of Home Affairs, Report on the Migration Program 2020–21, p. 55).

Budget paper no. 2 (p. 12) states that Partner visas will now be granted on ‘a demand-driven basis’, similarly to the Child stream. This means that places within the Migration Program are provided as estimates, but visa grants are not subject to an annual ceiling or cap.

Under section 87 of the Migration Act 1958 (the Act), grants of Partner and Child visas must not be capped, as are other permanent visas in the Migration Program (sections 85 and 86 of the Act provide that annual limits (caps) on visas may be specified). The Administration (p. 30) states that ‘these visas have never been capped. There is, however, scope in administering the program to consider planning levels and prioritise processing accordingly’. A higher number of visas could, therefore, be granted if higher numbers of applications were processed within a year.

Commentators have previously criticised the allocation of planning levels and program places for Partner visas as being a de facto cap, potentially in conflict with section 87 of the Act. The backlog in visa processing and long waiting times (now somewhat reduced) have also been highlighted as contributing to a failure to meet demand for places. Stakeholders are likely to welcome the change, but may view the Government’s shift to the ‘demand-driven’ model as acknowledgement that planning levels were serving as caps.

Within the Skill stream, there are fewer places in 2022–23 for the Business Innovation and Investment and Global Talent visa categories, both of which had large allocations in the previous two years (13,500 and 15,000 places respectively) with the intention of boosting economic growth (The Administration, p. 23). As at 31 December 2021, only about one-third of the Global Talent places for 2021–22 had been filled (The Administration, p. 23). According to the Home Affairs webpage on Migration Program planning levels, the equivalent of around 10,000 places from these two categories will be redistributed in 2022–23 amongst the other categories (Employer Sponsored, Skilled Independent, Regional, and State/Territory Nominated; even the Distinguished Talent category, which historically has been set at 200 places, will be increased to 300 places).

Net overseas migration

The Government has had to continually adjust assumptions on net overseas migration (NOM) over the last two years due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and border closures. NOM is the difference between arrivals to Australia and departures from Australia. Migrant arrivals to Australia are counted in NOM if they are in Australia for a total of 12 months or more during a 16-month period. The forecasts in Table 1 below are produced by the Centre for Population within the Treasury.

Table 1: Net overseas migration, for years ending 30 June

Net overseas migration 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22 2022–23 2023–24 2024–25 2025–26
2020–21 Budget 239,700 154,100 -71,600 -21,600 95,900 201,100    
2021–22 Budget   194,400 -96,600 -77,400 95,900 201,100 235,000  
2022–23 Budget     -89,900 41,000 180,000 213,000 235,000 235,000

Source: Australian Government, Federal financial relations: budget paper no. 3: 2020–21, Table A.5 p. 86; Australian Government, Federal financial relations: budget paper no. 3: 2021–22, Table A.5 p. 104; Australian Government, Federal financial relations: budget paper no. 3: 2022–23, Table A.5 p. 114.

NOM is now forecast to be positive in 2021–22 instead of negative, with a return to pre-pandemic levels still projected for 2024–25. Population growth is also forecast to be higher than predicted in the 2021–22 Budget: 0.7% in 2021–22, 1.2% in 2022–23 and 1.3% in 2023–24 (Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1: 2022–23, p. 37), compared with only 0.2% in 2021–22 forecast in Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1: 2021–22 (p. 37). Further information is available in the Government’s Population Statement for December 2021, produced by the Centre for Population.


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