Australia’s New Migration Strategy: 8 Key Actions for Future Reform

On 11 December 2023, the Australian Department of Home Affairs released its long-awaited Migration Strategy.

The Migration Strategy has been put in place to get Australia’s immigration system back on track and to manage migration levels.

Key changes in the strategy revolve around skilled workers to attract the skills Australia needs and tougher restrictions for international students.

The current migration system is ‘broken’

The 2023 Review of the Migration System found that Australia’s migration system is ‘broken’ and ‘not fit for purpose.’ It’s not delivering for workers, businesses, or Australians.

Minister of Home Affairs Clare O’Neil said, “We see too many instances for migrant worker exploitation. There are too many back doors and side doors into the system, undermining the system’s integrity. There is insufficient regard for pressures on housing and infrastructure. And the skilled people we need are turned off by a complex, unworkable system.”

The Australian government has now set itself the task of getting the migration system to work for migrants, local employers, and Australians. It has already put into action some proposals made in the 2023 Review of the Migration System, including:

  • Raising the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) to $70,000
  • Increasing the amount of savings international students need to be eligible for a student visa by 17% to $24,505
  • Increasing skilled migration to help meet labour shortage in regional Australia
  • Reducing visa backlogs and improving processing times. For example, the Temporary Skill Shortage visa is now processed in an average of 11 days compared to 50 days previously.

The way forward

The Government’s Migration Strategy outlines a new vision for Australia’s migration system, which builds on the findings of the 2023 Review of the Migration System.

The purpose? Delivering a better-managed migration system.

To deliver on this objective, the Migration Strategy outlines a roadmap for migration reform with eight key actions:

1. Targeting temporary skilled migration to address skills needs

The purpose of Australia’s temporary skilled migration system is to address labour shortages and provide a pathway to residence for eligible migrants.

Unfortunately, the Migration Review found that the current temporary skills program is failing to meet Australia’s skilled workforce needs.

 The plan of action

The Australian Government will introduce a new 4-year temporary Skills in Demand Visa. This new visa will give workers more freedom to move employers and provide clear pathways to permanent residence.

The Skills in Demand Visa will replace the single employer-sponsored Temporary Skill Shortage Visa, and it will have three targeted pathways:

Specialist Skills PathwayCore Skills PathwayEssential Skills Pathway
Purpose: To ensure Australia can quickly and easily recruit highly skilled workers.Purpose: To bring in the skilled employees Australia needs with a simpler, regularly updated skilled occupation list.Purpose: To serve as a more regulated pathway for lower-paid workers with essential skills.
Eligible Skilled Migrants: Migrants who meet the general eligibility criteria and who are:
– In any occupation except trades workers, machinery operators and drivers, and labourers
– Earning at least $135,000 (the Specialist Skills Threshold) and no less than Australian workers in the same occupation
Eligible Skilled Migrants: Migrants who meet the general eligibility criteria and who:
– Work in an occupation on a new Core Skills Occupation List, and
– Receive a salary at or above the TSMIT, which will be renamed the Core Skills Threshold, or the relevant average market salary where it is above the TSMIT
Eligible Skilled Migrants: The Australian Government is still developing the third pathway, the Essential Skills Pathway.

The Pathway would be sector-specific, capped, embedded with stronger regulation and minimum standards, and subject to further advice from Jobs and Skills Australia.

The Migration Strategy commits the Australian Government to a service standard of an average visa processing time of seven days for the Specialist Skills Pathway.

If the Australian Government manages to deliver on this commitment, it’ll establish Australia as one of the most attractive countries worldwide for highly skilled migrants.

2. Reshaping permanent skilled migration

Australia’s permanent skilled worker programs have always greatly benefited Australia’s economy.

However, the Migration Review found that the permanent program in its current form is skewed too much to visas that perform more poorly in economic terms over the long run.

Furthermore, the Review found there’s a lack of clear and fair pathways to permanent residence for temporary skilled migrant workers.

The plan of action

To address the shortcomings of the skilled migration program, the Australian Government wants to develop:

  • a simpler points test that’ll favour skill level, and
  • clear and fair pathways to permanent residence for temporary skilled sponsored migrant workers.

Furthermore, the government is considering developing a new Talent and Innovation visa to drive growth in sectors of national importance.

3. Strengthening the integrity and quality of international education

International students contribute $30 billion to the Australian economy per annum.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous education providers have systematically exploited Australia’s education system and broken migration laws.

It’s not just the educators that are guilty of ‘working the system’, though.

International students and graduates make up the largest share of ‘‘permanently temporary’ migrants. The Review found that 108,000 international students and graduates have lived in Australia for five or more years.

These students and graduates prolong their stay in Australia by shifting from one student visa to another or by shifting back to a student visa from a graduate visa.

The plan of action

The Australian Government has committed to implementing the following measures:

  • Higher English language requirements for international students and graduates
  • More scrutiny of high-risk student visa applications
  • Restrictions on onshore visa hopping which drives ‘permanent temporariness’
  • Tougher and simplified Temporary Graduate visa settings

With regards to English language requirements, the Government will implement the following increases in early 2024 to required test scores:

Visa / Student Type2023 IELTS Score2024 IELTS Score
Temporary Graduate Visa6.06.5
Student Visa5.56.0
Students undertaking an English Language Intensive Course for Overseas Students before their main course of study4.55.0
Students undertaking university foundation or pathway programs that deliver reputable English language training5.5

4. Tackling worker exploitation and the misuse of the visa system

The Australian Government has made tackling migrant worker exploitation one of its main priorities.

The 2019 Migrants Workers’ Taskforce (MWT) found that migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to factors such as language barriers and lack of awareness of Australian workplace laws.

In turn, some employers are guilty of misconduct, for example, underpaying workers and putting pressure on workers to do work that is not allowed by their visa conditions.

The plan of action

The Government has already implemented recommendations made by the MWT to address migrant worker exploitation.

Next up is developing a new public register of employers who are approved to sponsor temporary migrant workers, to improve integrity and support migrant worker mobility

This register will help migrant workers find new sponsors and give migrant workers a resource to check that a sponsoring employer is legitimate.

5. Planning migration to get the right skills in the right places

The Review found that the existing short-term planning approach for the permanent Migration Program does not effectively target migrants with the skills Australia needs.

Strategic planning is necessary instead – planning that involves the education, training, and migration systems. Consulting with and involving all three sectors will ensure Australia gets the right skills in the right places.

The plan of action

The Government has made the following commitments to ensure a migration system that serves Australia best:

  • Planning migration over a longer-term horizon to better manage the migration intake, with greater state and territory collaboration
  • Working with states and territories to ensure population planning is based on the best available data and forecasts
  • Establishing a formal role for Jobs and Skills Australia in defining Australia’s skills needs
  • Improving the approach to skills recognition and assessment
  • Launching an enhanced outreach program to improve access to the migration system
  • Bringing an evidence-based, tripartite approach to evaluation and monitoring

6. Tailoring regional visas and the Working Holiday Maker Program to support regional Australia

Many of Australia’s developing economic and social opportunities are emerging in regional Australia. However, regional migration pathways are often too complex and slow, or not conducive to long-term regional development.

Working Holiday Visas also play a part in regional development, especially in the horticulture industry. This industry produces 93% of the food eaten in Australia. Unfortunately, Working Holiday visa holders are often exploited.

The plan of action

To help meet critical workforce needs in regional Australia, the Government has committed to ensuring visas for regional Australia are prioritised first.

The Government has also committed to evaluating regional migration settings and the Working Holiday Maker program. These reforms will help ensure that migration supports development objectives in regional Australia and does not contribute to worker exploitation.

7. Deepening Australia’s people-to-people ties in the Indo-Pacific

Australia sees itself as part of the Indo-Pacific, with deep connections to the region, including family, business, education, and tourism.

Migration reform can help Australia deepen these connections by:

  • deepening shared values and aspirations,
  • building stronger links with diaspora communities, and
  • further integrating the country’s social and economic relationships.

The plan of action

The Australian government wants to adopt a new approach to developing people-to-people links with the rest of the region, including through a direct pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders. This pathway already came into effect on 1 July 2023.

8. Simplifying the migration system

The Australian Government wants to develop a ‘fast, efficient, and fair’ migration system. Such a migration system will support the other objectives and goals the Government has set itself. It’ll also benefit migrants and Australian employers.

The plan of action

 To simplify the migration system, the Government will streamline visa settings, make the system easier to use, and remove unnecessary and duplicate visas.

To recap

The Australian Government has released a Migration Strategy to Australia’s immigration system back on track and to manage migration levels.

The Strategy has five objectives underpinned by a roadmap with eight key actions, and its purpose is to deliver a better-managed migration system.

To this end, the Government has committed to creating clearer pathways to permanent residence, more strategic migration planning, simplifying the migration system, and shaping up skilled migration.

The Government will also implement measures to provide regional Australia with the skills it needs, get tougher on international students and graduates, and work towards preventing migrant exploitation.

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