It is with great anticipation that we eagerly await changes to Australia’s skilled migration program, following the recent release of the 2020-21 Migration Program Report. Changes to skilled independent visas are well overdue, as are changes to Regulation 2.12 – allowing people nominated/sponsored by state and territory governments and those issued an invitation to apply for a skilled independent points tested visa to apply onshore even if affected by Section 48 of the Migration Act

What changes could we expect in the 2021-22 migration program?

Firstly, we must understand the past to predict the future. To this end, the Departments’ 2020-21 Migration Program Report was interesting reading.  You can download and listen to our Migration Unplugged Podcast about this here.

PR (permanent residency) visa grants were up 14% last year from 140,000 to 160,000.  But in South Australia, PR grants fell by 18.6% along, with a 15% decrease in 482 grants and a 40% decrease in 482 applications being made.

With the split between skilled and family now at 50/50 (changed from 2/3rd skilled and 1/3rd family) and a bigger focus on business and global talent visas, there’s less places for other skilled visas.

The biggest issue is the Department’s backlog (or pipeline) of skilled visas.

The report says:

As at 30 June 2021, there were 97,385 first stage Skill applicants in the pipeline, an increase of 12.3 per cent compared to the pipeline as at 30 June 2020.

94,872 skilled visa applications were made, 79,620 visas were granted, but the Departments pipeline (of unprocessed skilled visa applications) increased to 97,385.  The pipeline is going to keep getting longer.

Nothing’s going to get easier whilst there’s such a huge backlog of applications and with the Department knowing that most 457/482 visa holders want and will transition to PR through the skilled program, they will most likely do everything they can to restrict people from being able to do this because the Department won’t want their pipeline to grow further – regardless of the impact it will have on business and key industry sectors. Business and industry need to take note of this and gain immigration advice on future workforce planning.

Within the Skill stream the breakdown of the 79,620 visas granted was:

Skill stream outcomes 2020 – 21
Category Outcome % of Skill stream
Employer Sponsored 23,503 places 29.5%
Skilled Independent 7,213 places 9%
Regional* 13,585 places 17%
State / Territory nominated 14,268 places 17.9%
Business Innovation and Investment Program 11,198 places 14%
Global Talent 9,584 places 12%
Distinguished Talent 269 places 0.3%

*In the Regional category, 10,675 places were delivered in Skilled Work Regional and 2,910 places in Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional.

What should the Department do?

The best idea is to increase the program to 250,000 (for 2022/23 and allocate the places to the skilled program) providing the Department with an opportunity to clear out the skilled visa backlog/pipeline.  Even better, keep the program at 250,000 for the next 3-5 years to assist with Australia’s post Covid-19 economic recovery and to add program numbers/places to regional demand driven programs, spouse/family and parent as well, thus allowing the Department to clear all pipelines of unprocessed visa applications.

Will they do it?

Who knows! It would certainly be good for business and industry to fill the skills gaps and labour shortages we have been experiencing throughout the pandemic.  It would be even better for those who have to wait for years to get a visa processed.  It would also send a clear signal to the world that Australia is serious about its skilled migration program.  With global competition heating up for skilled migrants, Australia will need to do more and reduce processing times to remain competitive and attractive.  If you could choose between waiting for 2-3 months to get a permanent skilled visa to move to Canada, the UK or New Zealand, or wait for over 12-18 months to get the same visa in Australia – I think it is likely that Australia becomes a far less popular destination.

Whilst we may see a return to offshore points tested skilled migration applications, including state/territory nominated applicants, I would not anticipate a large increase of applications due to existing Departmental backlogs and a reduced number of places available to this part of the program compared to previous years.

With regards to Section 48 and Regulation 2.12 changes, whilst we will keep lobbying Minister Hawke for beneficial reform, it troubles me to say that it is unlikely the Department will make any changes to Regulation 2.12, or that changes will be made anytime soon, unless places are taken away from other parts of the skilled stream (although I am hoping that common sense prevails and this is what happens).  Another way to make more room for new applications is to increase the permanent migration program from 160,000 to 200,000 or 250,000.  Having said this, if the Department can see that there is less demand for State/Territory nominated visas this year due to Covid-19 interruptions, additional places could be filled by making changes to Regulation 2.12, but as there are so many applications that have already been lodged and are waiting to be processed, I don’t think the Department will want to add to this backlog/pipeline by allowing more people to lodge more applications.

More information on this and other immigration topics can be found in our Migration Unplugged podcast series.

Mark Glazbrook, CEO, Migration Solutions

Registered Migration Agent Number 0100185

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