Immigration and border protection overview

Budget Review 2017–18 Index

Janet Phillips and Harriet Spinks

Permanent migration

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).[1]

In the 2012–13 Budget, the planned intake for the Migration Program was increased to 190,000 places—the highest level on record.[2] In this Budget, 190,000 places have again been set aside for the Migration Program, marking the sixth year at this level.[3] The majority of these places are usually allocated to the skill stream—there will be 128,550 skill stream places in 2017–18.[4]  

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).[5] In the 2015–16 Budget, the Australian Government announced that the humanitarian intake would gradually rise to 18,750 by 2018–19.[6] The first instalment of this commitment commences with an allocation of 16,250 places in 2017–18.[7]
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.[8] 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’.[9] 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.[10] 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).[11] Under the proposed changes applicants must also be permanent residents for four years, extended from the current one year.[12] 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.[13] Implementation of the majority of the changes will require amendment to the legislation.

Temporary migration

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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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 occupation lists.

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.[17] The Government supported these recommendations in its response to the report.[18] 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.[19] 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 temporary visas’.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23]

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.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26]

[1].          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.

[2].          J Phillips and E Karlsen, ‘Migration and Humanitarian Programs’, Budget review 2014–15, Research paper series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.

[3].          P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), 2017 Budget—immigration and border protection, media release, 9 May 2017.

[4].          B Joyce (Deputy Prime Minister) and F Nash (Minister for Regional Development), Regional Australia—driving our economy, ministerial budget statement, 2017, p. 131.

[5].          J Phillips and E Karlsen, ‘Migration and Humanitarian Programs’, op. cit.

[6].          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.

[7].          P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), 2017 Budget—immigration and border protection, op. cit.

[8].          Ibid.

[9].          Edmund Rice Centre, Turnbull government shirks humanitarian obligations with new Community Support Programme, media release, 10 May 2017.

[10].       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.

[11].       P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Strengthening the integrity of Australian citizenship, joint media release, 20 April 2017.

[12].       Ibid.

[13].       B Doherty, ‘Refugees will be hardest hit by changes to Australia's citizenship test, experts say’, Guardian (Australia), 21 April 2017.

[14].       P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Putting Australian workers first, joint media release, 18 April 2017.

[15].       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.

[16].       Ibid., and DIBP, Reforms to Australia’s permanent employer sponsored skilled migration programme, fact sheet, DIBP website.

[17].       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.

[18].       DIBP, Government response to the independent review into the integrity of the subclass 457 programme, DIBP website.

[19].       P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Enhanced visitor visas for sponsored parents, media release, 21 June 2016; and DIBP, Introducing a temporary visa for parents: discussion paper, September 2016.

[20].       A Boucher, P Mares and H Sherrell, ‘A new temporary parent visa threatens to create second-class Australians’, Guardian (Australia), 16 November 2016.

[21].       H Spinks and C Barker, ‘Immigration and Border Protection Overview’, Budget review 2016–17, Research paper series, 2016–17, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2016.

[22].       Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2017–18: budget related paper no 1.11:  Immigration and Border Protection Portfolio, p. 25.

[23].       B Doherty, ‘White House says US will take up to 1,250 refugees under Australian deal’, Guardian (Australia), 1 February 2017.

[24].       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, Canberra, 2014. 

[25].       S Morrison (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2015–16, p. 187. 

[26].       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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