Australia is updating its visas – here are the key changes that South Africans should know about

As Covid-19 continues to batter Australia’s economy, its government has finally announced updates to the country’s migration programmes for 2021.

Sam Hopwood, a migration expert for Sable International, says that migration has always made substantial contributions to Australia’s culture and economy, so 2020 travel restrictions and the delayed release of skilled migration quotas have hit the country particularly hard.

“These all contributed to Australia’s worst economic shock in nearly a century and its first negative net overseas migration since the Second World War,” he said.

“Net migration numbers are expected to fall from 154,000 in the 2019-20 financial year to a net loss of 72,000 in 2021-21 and a further 21,600 in 2021-22.”

Attracting skills

On 6 October, Australia’s Federal Budget was announced, following a three-month delay.

The new Budget includes elaborate long-term plans to counteract the effects of Covid-19 on immigration and some interesting 2020-21 migration planning level changes, said Hopwood.

“In 2020-21, the ceiling for the migration programme will remain at 160,000 places. The programme will also continue to have a strong focus on attracting the best and brightest migrants from around the world.”

Hopwood said that the ‘skilled stream’ has undergone the most changes, with the Employer-Sponsored and Provisional Business Innovation and Investment visas getting priority treatment.

Most importantly, however, the General Skilled Migration ceiling has decreased by about 30,000 spots, with the ever-popular Skilled Independent visa receiving a reduction from 16,652 to 6,500 places, he said.

“Furthermore, 2021 planning levels have reduced the State Nominated Skilled visa to 11,200, down from 24,968 and the Skilled Work Regional visa down to 11,200 from 23,372 last year.

“The inference from the Budget is that these skilled visas will be directed towards filling the 17 priority occupations, 11 of which are in the healthcare sector.”

Hopwood said that the Family stream’s allocated places also increased by a tremendous 61.75% (from 47,732 to 77,300), the vast majority of which (72,300) are partner visas.

“As such, of all the new permanent residents that will be given entry into the country, approximately one half will be from the Skilled stream and the other half from the Family stream,” he said.

Changes to the Provisional Business Innovation and Investment visa 

Changes to the Provisional Business Innovation and Investment visa seek to improve the quality of applicants, said Hopwood.

There will be changes to investment and residency requirements, ensuring higher value investors, business owners and entrepreneurs.

Places have nearly doubled from 6,862 to 13,500 and the government will prioritise the processing of these visas.

“This is good news and a sign of intent from the government to use this category to assist in the country’s ongoing economic recovery.

“The door has been left open to changing the criteria of these visas and increasing fees by almost 12% on 1 July 2021,” said Hopwood.

Furthermore, a new whole-of-government Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce will be established to attract greater international businesses and exceptional talent to Australia – in support of post-Covid recovery and to boost local jobs, he said.

“This initiative will build on the existing Global Talent Initiative and the Business Innovation and Investment Programme, and tie into a new initiative announced by the prime minister on 9 July 2020 to attract export-orientated Hong Kong-based businesses to Australia.”

Family migration

Those planning on applying for a Partner visa to settle in Australia are in luck: the majority of visas within the Family stream will go to partners, said Hopwood.

“On top of that, government has established a much more thorough application process.

“This effort seeks to address nearly all the present applicants awaiting finalisation of their visa. It is also expected that 75% of all Partner visas will go to those already in Australia.”

Updates to the process include:

  • Mandated character checks;
  • Sharing of sponsor information;
  • Enforceable sponsorship applications;
  • The introduction of English language requirements for Partner visa applicants and sponsors;

Covid-19 refunds and extensions

Government has made it known that there will be Visa Application Charge (VAC) refunds for visa holders who have been unable to travel to Australia due to Covid-19, including:

  • Temporary skilled workers;
  • Visitor visa holders;
  • Prospective marriage visa (PMV) holders;
  • Pacific Labour Scheme visa holders;
  • Seasonal Worker Programme visa holders.

The Australian government also announced that a waiver of application fees would be available for those who had paid for visas and were unable to travel to Australia because of border closures, these include:

  • Working Holiday visas
  • Visitor visas
  • Temporary skilled workers re-application

“As the world remains in the grips of the pandemic, these immigration announcements serve as a good indication of which routes will be prioritised going forward,” said Hopwood.

“The Federal Budget is also underpinned by a number of assumptions, one of which is the expectation of a Covid-19 vaccine being made available and distributable in the latter half of 2021, which would assist with the strategy of reopening Australia’s international borders.”

Read: Government is rolling out new coronavirus tests for travellers – how it will work

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Australia is updating its visas – here are the key changes that South Africans should know about