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OCTOBER BUDGET ANNOUNCEMENT UPDATE

12 Oct 2020

The eagerly awaited for Australian Federal Budget was announced last week and with it came a vast array of changes to Australian Migration. Below we provide you with an overview of all the recent developments. 

2020-21 BUDGET & MIGRATION PLANNING LEVELS

The Coronavirus Pandemic has brought about lots of changes to Australian Migration. Whilst the border closures meant a pause on travel it is, however, refreshing to see that the Australian Government have confirmed that a "carefully managed Migration Program is an important part of Australia's economic recovery" something that is reflected in the 2020-21 Migration Planning levels, which will remain at 160,000 places, despite the pandemic.

The majority of the places in the program are in the ‘Skill stream’ (79,600 places in 2020-21, 50.7 per cent of the program). This year, there is a strong focus on Employer Sponsorship with an allocation of 22,000, a tripling of the Global Talent Independent program allocation to 15,000 places and an increase in the Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP) to 13,500 places. The BIIP will also be streamlined and reformed to ensure that investments are targeted at Australian venture capitals and emerging small and medium-sized businesses to support economic recovery.

With the same number of allocations overall, unfortunately, these increases had to come from elsewhere. As a result, numbers have been taken away from General (points tested) Skilled Migration, with the ceilings more than half of what they were last year. The 189 ceiling for this year is down to 6,500. The 190 stream is being capped at 11,200, together with the new 491 (Regional family and State streams) also coming in with a ceiling of 11,200. These reductions will make general skilled migration highly competitive this year, particularly, if you consider the ceiling values include dependants, such as partners and children. We are still waiting on the States and Territories to publish their 2020-21 State Migration plans following the Federal Budget Announcement, with most States being closed, or still publishing interim allocations and being, predominantly, open to onshore applicants with Critical Skills.

There is a temporary increase to the Family steam this year, with the bulk going to the Partner category. The Family stream planning level has been set at 77,300 places, (49.2 per cent of this years program), of which the Partner Visas have been allocated a whopping 72,300 visas. This should enable as many Australians, as possible, to reunite with family members from overseas, and provide them with pathways to Citizenship. New requirements have also been announced for Partner Visa applicants and their permanent resident sponsors to make reasonable efforts to learn English. The Parent Visa category has had a slight increase to 4,500 places this year (up from 4,399 last year). While overall the government has placed greater emphasis on the Family stream, most of these are people already in Australia. Of the new permanent residents coming into the country, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) still anticipate that approximately two thirds will be in the Skilled stream and one third from the Family stream.

At least 3,000 Child places will be available in 2020-21 and Humanitarian stream being allocated 13,750 places. The smallest stream is Special Eligibility where 100 places were allocated and covers those in special circumstances, including permanent residents returning to Australia after a period away.
The Government will also offer Visa Application Charge (VAC) refunds, waivers, or visa extensions to visa holders who have been unable to travel to Australia due to COVID-19. This includes waiving the VAC for Working Holiday Makers and Visitors to boost tourism once the borders re-open.

AUSTRALIA BORDER CLOSURE

Travel Restrictions began on 1st February, with inbound travel being closed on 20th March, and outbound travel being restricted on 25th March. There are exemptions to the restrictions, which are evolving with the development of the pandemic and these are published on the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) website. Due to the strict measures, flights to and from Australia are limited, and travellers (even if exempt from the travel ban) may not be able to travel at this time. Plus, there is still a mandatory 14-day quarantine in place, which travellers need to pay for. Depending on the State or Territories the cost of this can range from $2,000-$3000 per person.

Permanent visa holders and Citizens of Australia are automatically exempt from the travel ban, and no exemption application is required to travel. However, temporary and provisional visa holders are still excluded under the Travel Ban and an exemption is required before you can travel. Individual exemptions can be applied for regarding the travel ban particularly under critical skills sectors or if applicants have compelling and compassionate circumstances.

COVID-19 CONCESSIONS

The DHA is aware that there are visa holders who are currently overseas and cannot return to Australia to satisfy work and residence requirements to apply for a permanent visa. As such, the “Migration Amendment (COVID-19 Concessions) Regulations 2020”, were introduced on 19th September for temporary and provisional visa holders. These concessions are to assist visa holders on a pathway to permanent residence and enable 485, 887, 888 visa applicants, who have been disadvantaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, to lodge visa applications offshore (not previously allowed), together with taking advantage of the Covid-19 Concessions. 

While the Concessions have not gone as far as some would have hoped, the acknowledgement of a Covid-19 concession period, from 1st February - until an end is announced by the Minister - is a positive step. While you are currently not able to extend your visa expiry date, an element of hope has recently crept in, with the Minister of Immigration mentioning that the DHA would be looking at COVID-19 related VAC refunds, waivers and extensions. In a recent announcement, the Minister of Immigration has stated that visa extensions will be available for Subclass 300 Prospective Marriage visa holders whose visas are still valid. So perhaps we can expect more visa extensions.

Whilst the concessions are not comprehensive, they are unprecedented, and it is reassuring to know that the DHA is aware that there are issues with visa holders with pathways to permanent residence that a stuck offshore and not able to make a start/or continue on their residency requirements – watch this space – we have a feeling that the Concession measures announced in September are only the beginning.

PRIORITY PROCESSING FOR CRITICAL SKILLS 

The Australian Government is committed to protecting the health of Australians during the global pandemic and carefully calibrating skilled migration to fill critical skill needs that support Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19. Whilst the concept of critical skills has been floating around for months now, prior to the budget, it was not until September that we saw the introduction of the new Australian Critical Skills List, announced in September, officially called the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL). The list identifies 17 critical skills that support Australia’s economic recovery, given Covid-19, that shall now receive priority processing. To read more about this, please link to the following article on our website:

The Department’s definition of critical skills is, however, slightly wider than the published PMSOL list and in line with recent Government announcements, the Department is currently prioritising visa applications from individuals:

  • travelling at the invitation of the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response
  • providing critical or specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuations and delivering critical medical supplies
  • with critical skills required to maintain the supply of essential goods and services (such as in medical technology, critical infrastructure, telecommunications, engineering and mining, supply chain logistics, aged care, agriculture, primary industry, food production, and the maritime industry)
  • delivering services in sectors critical to Australia’s economic recovery (such as financial technology, large scale manufacturing, film, media and television production and emerging technology), where no Australian worker is available
  • providing critical skills in religious or theology fields
  • sponsored by your employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL)
  • whose entry would otherwise be in Australia's national interest, supported by the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority.

This is great news for prospective applicants whose occupation is considered to be critical. Whilst non-critical skilled applicants can still apply, they will not be given the highest priority, making this year even more competitive.

NEW FAMILY SPONSORSHIP FRAMEWORK

New requirements have also been announced for partner visa applicants and their permanent resident sponsors to make reasonable efforts to learn English. There will also be an introduction of English language requirements during the second stage of the applications, whereby applicants will need to have functional English at the permanent application stage. The DHA is also looking to introduce a family sponsorship framework in late 2021 to protect applicants and sponsors from family violence. These new measures will apply to new applications only. To read more about the Minister’s announcement click here.
The new framework will mean that visa applications cannot be lodged without first completing a separate sponsorship application. This could impact on applicants looking to lodge their partner visa onshore, during a 3-month window of travel allowed on tourist visas. While the new framework will make Partner visa more cumbersome, we commend the DHA on this initiative to curb family violence and agree that family violence should not be tolerated.

UNABLE TO TRAVEL TO AUSTRALIA (INITIAL ENTRY DATE)

Australia has strict border measures in place to protect the health of the Australian community. Very limited flights are currently available to and from Australia and you may not be able to travel at this time. You should refer to the Department’s website for information about these restrictions and be aware that this information is updated frequently.
If you are unable to make your first entry into Australia by the date specified in your Grant Notification letter due to the travel restrictions currently in place due to COVID-19, please do not worry. Generally, you will be able to arrive in Australia after the initial entry date, as long as it is before the “Must not arrive after date” specified in your visa Grant Notification letter.  You do not need to be granted an “extension” to your initial entry date or visa.
However, at present, we cannot extend the validity period of your visa. If your visa ceases and you have not entered Australia, you will need to apply for another visa once the travel restrictions are lifted. Visa expiry dates cannot be extended, as things stand.

VISA APPLICATIONS

The Department of Immigration officials are still accepting and can still process applications. As far as we have seen, there has been no change to the visa processing system and we are still able to lodge visas and get on with related tasks as usual.
As a result of the ceilings or caps imposed by the migration planning levels for 2020-21, and to manage the visa places in an orderly and equitable manner. All visa applications are assessed in date of lodgement order. If an application appears to satisfy the criteria for the grant of the visa, it is then allocated a ‘queue date’ and placed in a global queue. To ensure no applicants are disadvantaged, all applications are treated equally. Applicants whose applications cannot be finalised this financial year will hold their place in the queue for final processing in a future financial year if places become available. There is no expiration on a visa application that has been lodged with the Department.
Some services relating to the visa application process may be impacted by COVID-19 and a range of services that the DHA rely on are increasingly unavailable. This includes visa medical appointments with overseas panel doctors and with BUPA in Australia and biometric collection. The Department of Immigration Delegates are aware of the Covid-19 related disruptions and will take the service disruptions into account when considering your visa application.
All things considered, Covid-19 is impacting on visa processing, and the time that you may have to wait for your application finalised may take longer than expected, and not able to be estimated due at this time.

BORDER OPENINGS?!

Whilst there is talk about an easement of the Australian Interstate travel ban, please note that we do not have details about when the international Borders are going to open, although there are indications that phase opening is being considered.

There have been a few successful pilots for opening the borders under Seasonal worker programme, and pacific scheme workers, together with to pilot opening for international students. The covid-19 secure safety measures and 14-day quarantine are effective, but there are huge logistical issues regarding limited quarantine resources which still need to be worked out by the State and Territory Governments. At the moment precedence is being given to Australian Citizens and Permanent Residents, who themselves are having huge logistical issues getting back to Australia. There are discussions that if the pilots are all successful that a staged approach to opening the Australian borders will be considered, depending on health advice by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, if it is safe to do so.

In short, COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on border closures and travel, so please be patient.

If you are left wondering where all these changes leave you, please feel free to book a free introductory call with one of our agents by clicking below.

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