Australia's permanent migration intake could drop by more than 10,000 people this year due to two major changes introduced by the Federal Government.
The regional and global talent visas represent almost 30,000 permanent visas in the Department of Home Affairs' planning levels. But according to two prominent migration experts — both former immigration officials — the Government might struggle to get to even 20,000 visa grants within these schemes. John Hourigan, the national president of the Migration Institute of Australia, said the employer-sponsored stream in the regional visa posed the biggest concern.
"The program is currently set for 9,000; we probably believe they'd be lucky to get to 2,000 out of those places." He said the global talent scheme, set for 5,000 places, was also "very adventurous", leaving permanent visa grants likely to fall significantly short of the planning level. Migration researcher Henry Sherrell said given significant changes to policy, "it will be difficult" to fill 160,000 places.
The regional visas won't be available until November, and Mr Sherrell said it would take time to attract people, process applications and grant visas. "Traditionally, it takes more than a single financial year to get a new visa off the ground and induce applications," he said. "It takes time for people to understand the rules and for the Department of Home Affairs to have processes in place to assess applications."
Impact from permanent decline
Mr Sherrell said a decline in permanent visas would play an important role over the long-term. "While this may not have an immediate short-term effect on the actual rate of migration to and from Australia, history tells us it will play an important role over the longer term, as people who are unable to transition from a temporary to a permanent visa consider leaving Australia instead," he said. Mr Hourigan predicted there would be an impact on local communities for a shortfall in regional visas.
"If you use the 'multiplier' effect, if someone gets $50,000 that $50,000 is going to flow through the local community several times."If they can't fill it, that effect will not occur, which means other businesses may not be able to employ other people."Immigration Minister David Coleman said the Government outlined its plans in March this year."The plan outlines the allocations within each category, with an overall cap of 160,000," he said."Key focuses of this year's program include an increased emphasis on regional migration and identifying exceptionally skilled migrants through the global talent programs."The Government may be able to transition people into the new regional visas by converting some of its backlog of applications for older visa classes.
Permanent decline, temporary increase
Historically, immigration officials set planning levels for permanent visas that acted as targets in recognition of the need for migrants.
However, under the Coalition planning levels have become "ceilings". The annual report for the Immigration Department, which now sits within the Home Affairs Department, added the qualification that "planning levels are ceilings, not targets" to its glossary in 2014-15. The planning level was set at 190,000 for seven years before it was capped at 160,000 for the current year. The permanent intake has declined from approximately 190,000 in 2015-16, to 184,000 the following year, to 162,000 the year after. If Mr Hourigan and Mr Sherrell are accurate, the figure for 2019-10 could be 150,000 or even lower. Over the same period temporary migration, driven mostly by international students, has swelled Australia's official population figures. Net overseas migration — which includes temporary visa holders — is predicted to grow by more than 10,000 between 2018 and 2019 to approximately 270,000.
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