As Covid-19 continues to batter Australia’s economy, the government has finally announced the updates to its migration programmes for 2021.

Australia has announced new immigration planning levels for 2021

Migration has always made substantial contributions to Australia’s culture and economy, so 2020 travel restrictions and the delayed release of Skilled Migration quotas have hit the country particularly hard. These all contributed to Australia’s worst economic shock in nearly a century and its first negative net overseas migration since the Second World War.

Net migration numbers are expected to fall from 154,000 in the 2019-20 financial year to a net loss of 72,000 in 2021-21 and a further 21,600 in 2021-22.

On 6 October, Australia’s Federal Budget was announced, following a three-month delay. The new Budget includes elaborate long-term plans to counteract the effects of Covid-19 on immigration and some interesting 2020-21 migration planning level changes.

The Federal Budget: key takeaways

In 2020-21, the ceiling for the migration programme will remain at 160,000 places. The programme will also continue to have a strong focus on attracting the best and brightest migrants from around the world.

The Skilled stream has undergone the most changes, with the Employer Sponsored (subclasses 482 and 186) and Provisional Business Innovation and Investment (subclass 188) visas getting priority treatment.

Most importantly, however, the General Skilled Migration ceiling has decreased by about 30,000 spots, with the ever-popular Skilled Independent (subclass 189) visa receiving a reduction from 16,652 to 6,500 places.

Furthermore, 2021 planning levels have reduced the State Nominated Skilled visa (subclass 190) to 11,200, down from 24,968 and the Skilled Work Regional visa (subclass 491) down to 11,200 from 23,372 last year. The inference from the Budget is that these skilled visas will be directed towards filling the 17 priority occupations, 11 of which are in the health care sector. 

The Family stream’s allocated places also increased by a tremendous 61.75% (from 47,732 to 77,300), the vast majority of which (72,300) are partner visas (subclasses 820 and 801).

As such, of all the new permanent residents that will be given entry into the country, approximately one half will be from the Skilled stream and the other half from the Family stream.

Changes to the Provisional Business Innovation and Investment visa (subclass 188)

Changes to the Provisional Business Innovation and Investment visa seek to improve the quality of applicants. There will be changes to investment and residency requirements, ensuring higher value investors, business owners and entrepreneurs.

Places have nearly doubled from 6,862 to 13,500 and the government will prioritise the processing of these visas. This is good news and a sign of intent from the government to use this category to assist in the country’s ongoing economic recovery. The door has been left open to changing the criteria of these visas and increasing fees by almost 12% on 1 July 2021.

Furthermore, a new whole-of-government Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce will be established to attract greater international businesses and exceptional talent to Australia – in support of post-Covid recovery and to boost local jobs. This initiative will build on the existing Global Talent Initiative and the Business Innovation and Investment Programme, and tie into a new initiative announced by the Prime Minister on 9 July 2020 to attract export-orientated Hong Kong-based businesses to Australia.

Enhancing Family Stream migration

Those planning on applying for a Partner visa to settle in Australia are in luck: the majority of visas within the Family stream will go to partners. On top of that, government has established a much more thorough application process. This effort seeks to address nearly all the present applicants awaiting finalisation of their visa. It is also expected that 75% of all Partner visas will go to those already in Australia. Updates to the process include:

  • Mandated character checks
  • Sharing of sponsor information
  • Enforceable sponsorship applications
  • The introduction of English language requirements for Partner visa applicants and sponsors

This push could imply a significant cut for places in the Parent category (presumably offset by an increase in Temporary Parent visas, which are not counted as part of the programme).

Covid-19 refunds and extensions

Government has made it known that there will be Visa Application Charge (VAC) refunds for visa holders who have been unable to travel to Australia due to Covid-19, including:

  • Temporary skilled workers
  • Visitor visa holders
  • Prospective marriage visa (PMV) holders
  • Pacific Labour Scheme visa holders
  • Seasonal Worker Programme visa holders

Government also announced that a waiver of application fees would be available for those who had paid for visas and were unable to travel to Australia because of border closures, these include:

  • Working Holiday visas
  • Visitor visas
  • Temporary skilled workers re-application

As the world remains in the grips of the pandemic, these immigration announcements serve as a good indication of which routes will be prioritised going forward. The Federal Budget is also underpinned by a number of assumptions, one of which is the expectation of a Covid-19 vaccine being made available and distributable in the latter half of 2021, which would assist with the strategy of reopening Australia’s international borders.

The changes to planning levels

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