The Albanese government has already bumped up Australia’s migration intake but there are hopes among migrants and potential migrants that even more changes will be revealed in next week’s budget.
What do we know so far?
The previous Morrison government cut migration program funding to the Department of Home Affairs by $875 million over four years, while keeping the number of places for skilled and family visas to 160,000. Visa processing times have since blown out and Australian businesses have complained of being unable to hire enough people with the right skills.
At the Jobs and Skills Summit in September, the Albanese government promised to accelerate visa processing times and announced an extra $36.1 million to hire up to 500 people for nine months to help address wait times.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles told the summit there were almost one million visas waiting to be processed when Labor won government in May. The median processing time for a temporary skilled visa had since come down from 53 days in May, to 42 days in July.
In a statement on 14 October, Mr Giles said the department had now processed more than two million applications but there was still a backlog of around 872,000 applications due to a dramatic rise in demand since the opening of the borders after they were closed to international arrivals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Australia is experiencing a rapid rebound in visa applications,” Mr Giles said. “We have received nearly 2.22 million new applications since 1 June 2022, compared with nearly 495,000 for the same period in 2021.”
Mr Giles said the Department of Home Affairs had already added 260 more staff to support visa processing, and more were being recruited and trained in the coming weeks and months.
How does the federal budget impact visas?
It’s unclear whether the government plans to put more money into Home Affairs to restore the $875 million in funding lost under the previous Morrison government in this year’s budget.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers will deliver the 2022-23 October Budget on Tuesday 25 October.
Former Department of Immigration secretary Abul Rizvi said the government would need to provide a lot more than the already promised $36.1 million for Home Affairs to get on top of its workload. But he said whether the new government would reverse the $875 million cut in full would depend on the reasons why it was done in the first place.
“Some of the reasons may have been quite sensible and so you wouldn’t want to reverse them,” Mr Rizvi said. “But obviously when you’ve got the massive gridlock in the visa system that they’ve got at the moment, any cut is going to be a disaster.”
Mr Rizvi said money was only part of the problem, with other issues also developing over the past decade. This includes the design of visas, which he said had been changed to make them more bureaucratic.
“You’ve also got the problem that the culture of the department has been fundamentally changed and that’s affecting the way visas are processed,” Mr Rizvi said.
“Decision makers end up refusing applications for sometimes very petty reasons.”
The Albanese government has announced a comprehensive review of the migration system to guide future reforms, with a focus on productivity, sponsorship opportunities and an internationally competitive visa process. A report is expected by the end of February 2023.
The government has also flagged plans to increase the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold. The threshold was frozen at $53,900 per year but the government says that is too low and more than 80 per cent of all full-time jobs now had a salary above that.
Will more visas become available?
The government has already increased the permanent migration program from 160,000 visa places to 195,000 in 2022-23. This includes visas available for skilled migrants and family members.
Mr Rizvi said he would be very surprised to see any further increase but the budget would likely reveal the breakdown of how many visas would be available in each category.