Migration Outlook for 2019 – Sunny with periods of rain

Man making a frame with his fingers looking at sunset

The time has arrived again for the Australian Government’s annual consultation with key stakeholders and the public, to submit their views on the 2019/20 Migration Program.

The main areas being discussed are the geographic distribution of migrants in regional areas, the current composition (skilled, family and humanitarian) and rate of visa approvals, in order to “maximise the benefits of immigration for all Australians”.

It is also positive to see the Government is focused with putting attention to Australia’s competitiveness with other countries and is supporting innovation, new technology, scientific research and entrepreneurship. The introduction of the Global Talent Scheme program (introduced in July 2018) is an example of the migration trends we will see this year.

Allocation of permanent migration places

The Department of Home Affairs (DOHA) currently has a composition of 70% for skilled migration and 30% for family immigration from a ceiling of 190,000. A key question being discussed is whether this composition should remain for the new financial year.

The skilled migration streams, which includes employer sponsored, independent skilled, business innovation and regional sponsored visas, had a total of 128,550 places allocated in the 2018-19 financial year. The family streams had a total of 57,400 places.

Key issues being considered are whether the current size and composition is balanced appropriately within the skilled migration and family streams. In assessing the planning levels for the 2019/20 program, DOHA is considering whether this balance needs to be changed to meet the needs of Australian’s better.

The reality – immigration is still in high demand

The forecast for immigration in 2019 demonstrates that there is still a large demand for migration to Australia. The migration planning levels are driven by supply and demand and now is the time to put in submissions to justify the need for adjusting the planning levels.

According to the report, 162,417 visas were granted in the 2017/2018 financial year with the same migration places allocated. Of this number, 48,250 places were allocated for Employer Sponsored migration and 43,990 for Skilled Independent. In the Partner visa stream, 47,825 places were available.

Although historical figures have shown a decline since the last five years in the number of visa grants, this may be largely attributed the tightening of the processing requirements and refusal rates. In 2017/18, the Migration Industry saw a lot of upheaval with unannounced changes and visa refusals based on health, character or compliance issues. There were many reports of applications being highly scrutinised and refused without requesting further documents or information from the sponsor and/or applicant.

We expect that applications will continue to be highly scrutinised, particularly with more information sharing between the DOHA and other government agencies. The report has outlined that the Government is focused on increased scrutiny, as there is now a greater proportion of high-risk cases across the immigration programs, requiring greater character checks.

Focus on Regional Migration

Figures have shown that skilled migrants are settling in Sydney and Melbourne, thereby a need for ‘distribution’ is on the agenda for the Minister for Immigration, David Coleman and has introduced The Designation Area Migration Agreements (“DAMA”) between the Government and States and Territories.

The DAMA will mean that employers can sponsor applicants on the Subclass 482 TSS visa and after five years in a regional area, and a pathway to permanent residence would be available. It is proposed that concessions will be provided for English language and skill levels, but most importantly, occupations which are not listed on the eligible occupation lists for the Subclass 482 TSS visa can be nominated.

There are currently two regions announced under the scheme – Warrnambool in Victoria and Northern Territory, with the Federal Government in negotiations with other regions, identified with a skills shortage.

Employer Compliance

From August 2018, the Home Affairs Minister can publish information about employer sponsorship who have breached their obligations. The Minister does not need to comply with any natural justice considerations in publishing such information, and is not liable for any civil damages which result by this disclosure.

This makes the risk of damage to employer reputation and brand more acute – raising the bar for employer compliance when it comes to immigration.

In addition, Single Touch Payroll now applies to all employers – regardless of size – from July 2018. This means that the earnings and tax file numbers of all staff is reported to the ATO on each payroll cycle. Employees must declare a Tax File Number when applying for most employer sponsored visas from August 2018. This makes data matching between the ATO and Department of Home Affairs more straightforward.

The ATO has announced that it will use data matching to audit visa holders. Furthermore, the Department of Home Affairs privacy policy confirms that it provides to the ATO detailed information on visa holders, business sponsors, migration agents and education providers for international students. This includes full visa history, address details, business sponsor details, and the ATO is able to view visa status instantly when a visa holder applies for a Tax File Number (TFN).

These changes mean that employers who have staff working in breach of visa conditions can accordingly expect a much more prompt follow-up from the Department of Home Affairs.

Quid Pro Quo – Skilling Australians Fund levy in exchange for visa sponsorship

The Skilling Australia Fund became effective in August 2018. This means that applications for employer sponsored visas – both temporary and permanent – will also require payment of a levy. The rate for temporary work visas is $1,200 to $1,800 per year of sponsorship, and the rate for permanent visas is $3,000 to $5,000 per application.

As a consequence, from August 2018 the training obligation no longer needs to be evidenced when applying for temporary and permanent employer sponsored visas.

Whilst the reduction in paperwork to prove training compliance is significant, the new training levy represents a substantial investment that should be protected by seeking professional advice and assistance with work visa applications.

Opportunity to comment on Australia’s migration program

The Government is seeking submissions from stakeholders on the following points:

  1. Would maintaining the current composition of the permanent Migration Program, approximately 70 per cent skilled immigration and 30 per cent family immigration, strike an appropriate balance that maximises the benefits of immigration for all Australians in 2019-20?
  2. How can Australia maximise the economic outcomes from the Skill stream in the 2019-20 Migration Program? What should the balance between skilled categories be in order to best meet the needs of Australians in 2019-20?
  3. Is the current size and composition of the Family stream appropriately balanced between partners, parent and other family? What should the balance between family categories be in order to best meet the needs of Australians in 2019-20?

Submissions to the Department of Home Affairs must be made by 31 January 2019. If you are interested in putting forward a submission and would like our assistance, please let us know.

For assistance, please contact info@themigrationagency.com.au or (02) 8896 6056.

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