Migration program

Budget Review 2012–13 Index

Janet Phillips

Australia has two distinct programs to facilitate the arrival of permanent migrants—the Migration Program for skilled and family entrants and the Humanitarian Program for refugees and those in refugee-like situations. Each year the Government releases its planning figures for both these programs as part of the Budget process.[1] Temporary entrants on the other hand, including skilled migrants arriving on temporary (subclass 457) business visas, are not counted under the Government’s Migration Program.[2]

In the 2012–13 Budget the planned intake for permanent migrants under the Migration Program will increase by 5000 places to 190 000. In the history of Australia’s post-war immigration program this planning figure is the highest on record.[3]

As has been the case for over a decade, the majority of places will be allocated to skilled migrants in order to ‘provide support to the growth regions and sectors of Australia’s economy struggling to meet acute skills shortages’.[4] In 2012–13, skill stream places will rise to 129 250 (from 125 850 in 2011–12); family stream places will rise to 60 185 (from 58 600 in 2011–12); and special eligibility stream places will rise slightly to 565 (from 550 in 2011–12).[5]

In the 2011–12 Budget there was a focus on measures designed to attract skilled migrants, particularly to regional and rural areas. This included 16 000 places reserved for the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS).[6] In the 2012–13 Budget 16 000 places have again been reserved for the RSMS to assist the regions to fill skill gaps.[7] In addition, $1.3 million has been allocated over two years to encourage more permanent employer-sponsored skilled migration. The funding will go towards replacing the current six permanent employer-sponsored visas with two new visas and consolidating the existing three sponsored occupation lists (subclass 457, employer nomination and state and territory sponsored general skilled migration lists) into one.[8] This builds on the 2011–12 Budget measures designed to simplify the pathway to permanent residency for 457 visa holders and provides the funding to implement an announcement in March 2012 that the Government would ‘cut red tape for businesses looking to address critical skills gaps by simplifying the permanent employer-sponsored visa program’.[9]

The Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme administered by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) is designed to attract seasonal workers to regional areas. This pilot scheme concludes on 30 June 2012 and will be replaced by the Seasonal Labour Mobility Program. As of 1 July 2012, non-resident seasonal workers participating in this program will be taxed at a flat rate of 15 per cent and will no longer be required to pay the Medicare levy. This will result in a loss to revenue of $6.5 million over four years, however it is anticipated that there will be a reduction in compliance costs for seasonal workers and simplified administration for the Australian Tax Office.

One measure in the 2012–13 Budget that aims to assist new arrivals in regional areas is the allocation of $5 million over three years to pilot virtual English language tuition via the National Broadband Network (NBN). Designed to complement the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), the trial will be introduced in two phases and will be reviewed in 2013–14.

Of note in this year’s Budget is a commitment ($4.6 million over four years) to reform the health requirement criteria in response to recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration inquiry into the migration treatment of disability conducted between 2008 and 2010.[10] The inquiry highlighted the tensions associated with predicting health care costs of entrants with a health condition or disability and balancing these considerations against the potential economic and social contribution made by migrants. Currently, permanent visa applicants do not meet the health requirement if an applicant has a pre-existing medical condition or disability that may potentially involve costs to the Australian Government of over $21 000 over a five year period (known as the Significant Cost Threshold).[11] Commencing on 1 July 2012, this will increase to $35 000 ‘to better reflect health costs’ for all permanent Migration Program applicants. The Government will also remove the requirement for offshore Humanitarian Program applicants to meet the Significant Cost Threshold criteria.

Revenue measures in this year’s Budget for the Immigration and Citizenship portfolio relating to the Migration Program include:

  • an estimated increase in revenue of $1.7 million over three years due to reforms to employer sanction processes. The Government proposes to introduce graduated tiers of employer sanctions ranging from warnings and infringement notices with financial penalties to criminal prosecution for serious breaches (currently the only legal recourse for employers who breach employment conditions is criminal prosecution) and  
  • increases in visa charges estimated to raise $76 million over four years.[12]

[1].       This practice was introduced by the Howard Government during the 2007–08 Budget. See K Andrews (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Budget 2007: A prosperous cohesive nation, media release, 8 May 2007, viewed 9 May 2012.

[2].       The 457 visa is the most commonly used visa category for employers wishing to recruit temporary skilled workers from overseas and applications are ‘demand-driven’ by employers seeking to sponsor temporary workers and those seeking to work in Australia on a temporary basis. Temporary skilled migration is not subject to annual caps (or planning places) set by government. For more detail on permanent versus temporary skilled migration to Australia see J Phillips and H Spinks, Skilled migration: temporary and permanent flows to Australia, Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2012.

[3].       Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) advice on departmental planning figures since 1953–54 supplied to the Parliamentary Library on 6 August 2010. Note: the Rudd Government initially planned for an intake of 190 300 in 2008–09, but in response to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) this figure was subsequently decreased to 171 800 in March 2009. According to departmental records the highest number of settlers to arrive in any one year since 1945 was 185 099 in 1969–70 under the Gorton Government (when the planning figure was 175 000); and the lowest number in any one year was 52 752 in 1975–76 during the Whitlam and Fraser Governments. See DIAC, Key facts in immigration, fact sheet 2, DIAC, viewed 9 May 2012.

[4].       C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Targeted migration increase to fill skills gaps, media release, 8 May 2012, viewed 9 May 2012.

[5].       Ibid. Note: the Special Eligibility stream applies to former (non-citizen) permanent residents.

[6].       For last year’s measures see Australia, Parliamentary Library, Budget review 2011–12, Research paper, no. 13, 2011–12, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2011, p. 149, viewed 9 May 2012.

[7].       C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Targeted migration increase to fill skills gaps, op. cit.

[8].       The budget figures in this brief have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2012–13, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2012, pp. 15, 38 and 213–217, viewed 9 May 2012.

[9].       C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Simplifying sponsorship for permanent skilled migrants, media release, 9 March 2012, viewed 9 May 2012.

[10].      See the Joint Standing Committee on Migration report, Enabling Australia: inquiry into the migration treatment of disability, Canberra, 2010.

[11].      The threshold for significant cost was first calculated in 2000 and has not been altered since then. Source: Joint Standing Committee on Migration, op. cit., p. 33.

[12].      Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2012–13, op. cit., p. 15.

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