Migration and humanitarian programs

Budget Review 2013–14 Index

Janet Phillips

Migration program

As part of the Budget process each year the Government announces the number of places it plans to allocate for permanent migrants under Australia’s Migration Program.[1] In last year’s Budget the planning figure of 190,000 places was the highest on record.[2]

In this year’s Budget announcement, Australia’s Migration Program remains capped at 190,000 places for 2013–14. The majority of these places will continue to be set aside for skilled migrants (128,550) with a smaller allocation for those entering under the family stream (60,885). However, the Government has made a ‘small shift’ of 700 places from the skill stream to the family stream ‘in response to the continuing high levels of demand for family stream places from Australians, particularly in the partner category’.[3]

Interestingly, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship made no mention in his Budget press release of the additional 4,000 family stream places promised for humanitarian entrants in response to a recommendation made by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers in August 2012.[4] The Panel proposed that irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) should only be eligible to sponsor family within the family stream of the Migration Program and not through the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP).[5] To accommodate the expected increase in demand for visas in the family stream the Government had announced it would increase the number of family stream places by 4,000 per year which would be quarantined specifically for humanitarian entrants (IMAs and non-IMAs).[6]

While there is an increase in funding in the 2013–14 Budget under Outcome 1 (Visa and Migration) and Outcome 5 (Settlement Services for Migrants and Refugees) relating to the ‘increase in places for the annual Migration Program, specifically in the Family Migration Program as a result of the report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers’, the size of the Migration Program as a whole has not increased and it would appear that the increase in family stream places is only to accommodate skilled migrants who wish to sponsor family members.[7]

Also in this Budget is an expense measure of $14.9 million over two years to promote social inclusion and expand the Government’s Diversity and Social Cohesion Program; and a revenue measure expected to raise $198.0 million over four years through increases in visa application charges for the temporary work (skilled) (sub-class 457) visas from 1 July 2013.

Humanitarian program

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. Since 1995–96, Humanitarian Program planning levels have hovered between 12,000 and 13,750 places, but refugee advocates have argued for an increase in Australia’s resettlement commitment for many years. The previous Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, stated on several occasions that his preference would be to increase the Australia’s humanitarian intake to 20,000. However, he pointed out that such an increase would be expensive.[8] In spite of the expense, and in line with recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, the Government announced on 23 August 2012 that it would increase Australia's Humanitarian Program to 20,000 places for 2012–13, including an immediate commitment to resettle an additional 400 refugees directly from Indonesia.[9]

This resulted in an increase over the budgeted expenditure under Outcome 2 (Refugee and Humanitarian Assistance) for 2012–13 and this level of funding has continued for 2013–14 with over $3 million in additional departmental expenses each year. Departmental expenses for settlement services (Outcome 5) have also increased significantly, presumably in order to fund the extra support and assistance required for the additional refugees and humanitarian entrants under the expanded Humanitarian Program (about $51 million extra funding for 2012–13 and $111 million for 2013–14).

Commencing this year the Government will also allow up to 500 entrants from within the Humanitarian Program to settle in partnership with community organisations under the Community Partnership Settlement Pilot. Partnering community groups will be responsible for visa application charges and this measure is expected to increase revenue by $5.3 million over two years.

[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, accessed 15 May 2013. Note: planning places do not apply to the temporary business visa program for skilled migrants (subclass 457). These visa grants are demand-driven and not counted under the Migration Program, or subject to caps set by Government.

[2].       For more detail see Australia, Parliamentary Library, Budget Review 2012–13, Research paper, 9, 2011–12, Migration program, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2012, accessed 15 May 2013.

[3].       B O’Connor (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Migration program delivering for Australia, media release, 14 May 2013, accessed 15 May 2013.

[4].       Ibid.; Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, August 2012, pp. 16, 40–1 and 136–7, accessed 15 May 2013.

[5].       For background on this issue see J Phillips, Asylum seekers and refugees: how will they be affected by this year’s Budget? FlagPost weblog, 10 May 2013, accessed 15 May 2013.

[6].       C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Government implements expert panel’s family reunion recommendation, media release, 22 September 2012, accessed 15 May 2013.

[7].       The budget figures and information in this brief have been taken from the following documents unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2013–14: budget related paper no. 1.11: Immigration and Citizenship Portfolio, pp. 23–4, 31–2 and 72–4; ‘Part 1: Revenue measures’, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2013–14, p. 13 and ‘Part 2: Expense measures’, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2013–14, pp. 197–9, accessed 15 May 2013.

[8].       C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), The Refugee Convention and beyond, Keynote address to the International Association of Refugee Law Judges, Melbourne, 3 February 2012, accessed 15 May 2013.

[9].       J Gillard (Prime Minister) and C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Refugee program increased to 20,000 places, media release, 23 August 2012, accessed 10 May 2013. For more background see J Phillips, Asylum seekers and refugees: how will they be affected by this year’s Budget?, op. cit.

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