With the release of the Budget on 11 May 2021 it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a driving force behind the evolving Australian immigration landscape as the Federal Government takes action to grant certain concessions to temporary visa holders in Australia, while also centering on how migration can play a long-term role in the economic recovery.

The Budget announced the program numbers for the 2021-22 Migration Program planning levels will be maintained at the current level of 160,000. Family and skilled stream places will be maintained with a continued focus on onshore visa applications. With respect to skilled visas, priority will be given to highly skilled migrants in the employer sponsored, business innovation and investor program and global talent program. Interestingly, there was no announcement in respect to visa application charges, which are usually increased annually on 1 July.

The Budget called out the recent introduction of the Global Talent visa (which replaced the Distinguished Talent visa), and also the Temporary Activity visa in the COVID-19 Pandemic event stream which has enabled certain individuals who would otherwise need to depart Australia to remain in Australia during the pandemic.

To encourage investment, the government announced an early engagement process which will be established to provide potential investors and global businesses with greater certainty in order to streamline and simplify the associated processes.

The Budget contained welcome flexibility, including for student visa holders in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Student visa holders working in these sectors will be able to work more than 40 hours per fortnight. This follows similar flexibilities previously announced in the agriculture, health and aged care sectors.

A new announcement regarding Parent visas confirmed that the validity period of Sponsored Parent (Temporary) visas will be extended by 18 months for individuals who are unable to utilise their visas as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Overall, the Budget built on the flexibilities that continue to be necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic, where a careful balance needs to be struck between addressing skill shortages, the needs of Australian businesses, public health measures and preventing the exploitation of visa holders.

Inquiry into Australia’s skilled migration program

Recommendation 1:

Conduct a review into the potential application of a risk-based approach to vaccinated travellers while concurrently working with our counterparts to increase the access to vaccines in low income countries.

Recommendation 2:

Consider a range of measures to make Australia attractive to young, skilled migrants including:

  • making post-study work rights easier and last longer
  • adding further permanent residency points to those post-study work rights
  • adding even further permanent residency points where both the course and post-study work rights are in an area of skill shortage outlined in updated skills lists and
  • introducing an accelerated pathway to residency program for regional students based on updated skills lists.

Recommendation 3:

That the Committee consider recommending that a package of COVID-19 temporary concessions be developed to help address the immediate shortfall of workers in regional Australia including the temporary removal of Labour Market Testing for employer sponsored streams, older age limits and lower English language requirements for workers applying for temporary visas or permanent residency in regional areas.

Recommendation 4:

Consider improvements to the Global Talent Scheme and Hong Kong visa class to ensure international competitiveness in a highly competitive global market including a review of salary caps, age thresholds, turnover requirements and concessions on key criteria for Hong Kong nationals.

Recommendation 5:

Consider a further increase in program allocation numbers in recognition that highly skilled individuals don’t often migrate as sole travellers and will often have accompanying family members who are included in the current program caps.

Recommendation 6:

Consider a revision of the Global Talent Employer Sponsored (GTES) program as it relates to start-ups to ensure that there is a broader representation of industries that can access the scheme.

Recommendation 7:

Include KPIs for processing times and accrediting specialist third parties to review visa eligibility so that visa categories are adaptable and responsive to market changes in growth sectors.

Recommendation 8:

Introduce clearer policies and guidelines on identified target sectors to aide interest and uptake for highly skilled individuals and businesses.

Recommendation 9:

Provide greater permanent residence options for businesses and their employees contributing to Australia’s economic recovery.

For further information or to request a copy of our full submission please reach out to one of our KPMG contacts.

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