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Federal Budget changes to the Migration Program

Following the Federal government budget this month, there has been changes to the Australian Migration Program.

While the migration program numbers will remain the same at 160,000 places for the 2020-21 year, the distribution of visa places will change.

These include a tripling of the Global Talent Independent program allocation to 15,000 places and an increase of the Business Innovation and Investment Program to 13,500 places.

The family stream will also be increased from 47,732 to 77,300 places for this financial year. That includes 72,300 places in the partner category meaning there are only 5,000 places for other family visas.

 

Partner visas

Some of the biggest changes are to the Partner visa program.

The allocation of extra places for the Partner visa is a welcome change as there is a huge backlog of these applications with processing times having blown out to over 2 years.

 

However, there will also be the introduction of:

  • Approval of the sponsoring Australian citizen or permanent resident including character checks and disclosure of information about the sponsor to the visa applicant;
  • English language requirements for Partner visa applicants AND the sponsor where the sponsor is a permanent resident;
  • Onshore visa applicants will be prioritised; and
  • Visa applicants whose sponsor lives in a regional area will also be prioritised.

 

The introduction on an English language requirement has come as a shock to many. Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the test will apply from “about the middle of next year”.

The testing will mean that the visa applicant and the sponsor (who is PR and not a citizen) will have to meet a level of functional English or have made reasonable efforts to learn English. Reasonable efforts means at least 500 hours of free English language classes.

Partner visas are processed in two stages and the minister’s office said the new language requirement would not need to be met until someone was applying for permanency, usually after two years of being able to live in Australia on a temporary partner visa.

 

Business Innovation and Investment Program visas

Places in this program will be increased to 13,500.

These visas will also be prioritised, as will onshore applicants who reside in designated regional areas.

The Government will introduce changes to the Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP) to improve the quality of investments and applicants. It is expected to focus on higher value investors, business owners and entrepreneurs and improve the economic outcomes of the program.

Visa application charges (VAC) for BIIP visas will also be increased by an additional 11.3% on 1 July 2021.

 

Humanitarian program

Humanitarian visas will be capped at 13,750 places. This is disappointing given the lengthy waits for these visas and those waiting in immigration detention.

The cap on class hours and time limits on the free English language tuition available under the Adult Migrant English Program has been removed.

 

Working holiday makers

People applying for Working Holiday Maker and visitor visas once borders reopen will have their fees waived in a bid to boost tourism, while temporary visa holders impacted by the pandemic will be eligible to have their fees refunded at an estimated cost of $270 million over four years.

 

Other Fee Waivers

Visa holders impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to access VAC refunds or waivers, as follows:

  • Prospective marriage visa (PMV) – the Department is not extending the entry date for PMV holders and is moving to cancel the visas of those offshore. Accordingly, holders of these visas will be able to access a VAC refund;
  • Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Programme visa holders will be able to access a VAC refund;
  • Temporary skilled workers and visitor visa holders will be eligible to have the VAC for a subsequent visa application waived, to allow them to return to Australia once travel restrictions are lifted.

VAC refunds and waivers will be available to current visa holders who are unable to travel until the border reopens.

 

Skilled Independent sc189 visa – Permanent migration for New Zealanders

The income eligibility requirement for the New Zealand stream of the Skilled Independent (subclass 189) visa will be extended to Special Category (subclass 444) visa holders who have a taxable income at or above the Temporary Skilled Migrant Income Threshold (TSMIT) for at least three of the last five income years, including the most recent year. The TSMIT is currently $53,900 taxable income.

Federal Law Circuit Court

Funding of $35.7 million over four years from 2020-21 will be provided to the Federal Circuit Court (FCC) for additional resources and judges to expedite the resolution of a backlog of migration matters.

 

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Please note that this article has been prepared by Zoë Brereton, Senior Associate at Bell Legal Group, for information purposes only. It is not legal advice nor should it be relied upon as such.