Massive Changes Ahead for Australia’s Migration System

On 27 April 2023, Minister of Home Affairs Clare O’Neill addressed the National Press Club about proposals for a significant reform of Australia’s migration system.

The aims of such a reform? To prioritise the people Australia needs, to make the migration system simpler and more efficient, and to place Australian values once again at the heart of the system.

1. Prioritising skilled migrants

The first proposal from Minister O’Neill is redesigning Australia’s migration system to better address Australia’s needs for skilled migrants.

The proposal includes three new pathways for temporary skilled migrants for consideration:

  1. Fast, simple route for specialised highly skilled workers
  2. Mainstream temporary skilled pathway focusing on evidence-based assessments of skills needs
  3. Proper, capped, safe, tripartite pathways for workers in key sectors, such as care, to better support Australia’s industries and to better protect workers

Minister O’Neill also proposes reforming how Australia determines which temporary migrants end up as permanent residents and, ultimately, citizens.

The critical driver for this would be a reform of the points test, which Minister O’Neill says is not working. It sets the bar too low and does not prioritise the skills Australia needs.

Lastly, Minister O’Neill encouraged a more proactive approach to engage with global talent who can help build Australia’s future.

To facilitate this process, the Minister proposes creating a new area in her Department to work with Jobs and Skills Australia to identify skills needed in Australia’s economy. The Department of Home Affairs would then actively search for migrants that Australia needs and approach them about living and working in Australia.

2. Simplifying Australia’s migration system and making it more efficient

In Minister O’Neill’s address to the National Press Club, she called Australia’s migration system ‘a bureaucratic nightmare’, and ‘slow and crazily complex’ with ‘hundreds of visa categories and subcategories’.

To simplify and streamline the system, Minister O’Neill is advocating for the following:

  • A data-driven approach to migration to eliminate a lot of the red tape. To this end, Jobs and Skills Australia will use facts and statistics to identify skills shortages and help the Department of Home Affairs to integrate the needs of the job market, the training and education system, and the migration system.
  • Strongly reducing the number of visa categories.

3. Reforming policy settings that drive exploitation of migrant workers

Many migrant workers, especially those in low-skilled or low-income occupations, are exploited by their Australian employers.

Minister O’Neill wants to end this practice by reforming the policy settings that drive exploitation. She’s proposing ways to give migrants more flexibility to move employers and enforce their workplace rights.

4. Strengthening the interaction between the international student system and the migration system

More than half of the people who receive permanent skilled visas under Australia’s current system arrived in Australia on a student visa. This phenomenon presents a problem, as international students are meant to go to Australia to study.

To address this issue, Minister O’Neill proposes simpler, faster pathways for international students with the skills Australia needs to give those students a chance to remain in Australia once they’ve completed their studies.

The proposal also includes plans to tighten the requirements for international students studying in Australia.

5. Restoring Australian values at the heart of the system

Minister O’Neill wants to restore three Australian values in the country’s migration system:

  • Integrity: Minister O’Neill said that abuse of Australia’s visa system has gone unchecked in recent years. To rectify the situation, the Minister wants to see more resources in Home Affairs focused on ensuring that migrant worker exploitation is identified and addressed. It would include the improvement and enforcement of wages and conditions and better regulation of migration agents.
  • Fairness: Many migrants are in a permanent state of being temporary residents. Minister O’Neill wants to put an end to this by creating clearer pathways for skilled workers and providing clarity for migrants that have less of a prospect of becoming permanent residents.
  • Inclusion: Minister O’Neill proposes improving and streamlining skills recognition to help more migrants, including secondary applicants, enter the labour market at a level that matches their qualifications.

These changes have already been made

The Department of Home Affairs has made several changes in the past year to improve Australia’s migration system:

  • Dramatically reduced the visa backlog of more than one million applications
  • Introduced a larger permanent skilled program to address Australia’s labour shortages
  • Created permanent visa pathways for roughly 20,000 existing Temporary Protection Visa and Safe Haven Enterprise Visa holders
  • Announced that from 1 July 2023, New Zealanders living in Australia will have a direct pathway to Australian citizenship

And these changes are coming soon

Minister O’Neill also announced two changes that her Department would introduce in the coming federal budget:

  • From 1 July 2023, the temporary skilled migration income threshold, or the TSMIT, will increase from AUD53,000 to AUD70,000.
  • By the end of 2023, all temporary skilled workers will have a pathway to permanent residency

To summarise

The Australian government wants to reform its migration system to ensure a prosperous and secure future for Australia.

The focus will be ensuring Australia gets the skills it needs while simplifying and streamlining the migration system and putting these three Australian values at its heart – integrity, fairness, and inclusion.

The goal is a system that works in the national interest and that of migrants who can contribute to Australia’s growth.

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