The Government has released a new Migration Strategy, setting out significant reforms to Australia’s migration system to meet the future needs of the nation. The Migration Strategy provides a policy roadmap to implement the Government’s new vision and objectives for Australia’s migration system.
The key actions in the Government’s Migration Strategy roadmap have been developed through extensive consultation with businesses, unions, international education, civil society and many Australians. It also draws on the key findings of the Migration Review and the 483 public submissions it received.
The new reforms:
- develop a new Skills in Demand visa, with full mobility and clear pathways to permanent residency;
- develop a Specialist Skills Pathway to drive innovation and job creation;
- develop a Core Skills Pathway to meet targeted workforce needs;
- legislate indexation of income thresholds to maintain system integrity;
- take a coordinated, evidence-based, tripartite approach to identifying skills needs;
- streamline Labour Market Testing to reduce complexity; and
- establish a best practice service level agreement for processing times and a modernised accreditation pathway to better compete for talent.
In this article, we outline the key reforms outlined in the new Migration Strategy, including changes that have already been implemented by the Government in recent months, as well as new reforms contained in the Migration Strategy report, which has just been released.
Let us first take a look at the reforms to the migration system that have already been announced (and implemented) by the Government in recent months.
Reforms To The Migration System Which Are Already Implemented
Raising The TSMIT
The Government’s first action in response to the Migration Review (findings were released earlier this year) was to set a new $70,000 income threshold for the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT), which came into effect as of 1 July 2023.
The Migration Strategy report also states that the TSMIT will become the new Core Skills Threshold to establish eligibility for the new Core Skills Pathway (this is discussed further below) and will be indexed annually.
New Permanent Residency Pathway For Temporary Skill Shortage Visa Under The Short-Term Stream
The Government has introduced a pathway to permanent residency for temporary skilled visa holders under the short-term stream of the Subclass 482 Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa after having worked in the nominated position for two out of the three years immediately before the nomination application is made for a Subclass 186 Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) visa.
Learn more about these changes in our article All Subclass 482 TSS Visa Holders To Be Eligible For Permanent Residency From 25 November 2023.
Establishment Of A Direct Pathway To Australian Citizenship For Eligible New Zealanders
From 1 July 2023, New Zealand citizens living in Australia have a direct pathway to Australian citizenship, provided they have been a resident for four years and meet other eligibility requirements.
To learn more about these changes, please see our article New Direct Pathway To Australian Citizenship Announced For New Zealand Citizens.
Next, we outline the key reforms to the migration system which are to be implemented as part of the new Migration Strategy for Australia.
Reforms To The Migration System To Be Implemented
Develop A New Skills In Demand Visa With Pathways To Permanent Residency
The Government will introduce a new four-year temporary skilled worker visa, called the Skills in Demand visa. This new visa will give workers more opportunity to change employers and will provide clear pathways to permanent residency.
The Skills in Demand visa will replace the employer sponsored TSS visa.
Key features of the new Skills in Demand visa are listed below.
Guaranteed Pathways To Permanent Residence
Skills in Demand visa holders will have a pathway to permanent residency.
Periods of employment with any approved employer will count towards permanent residence requirements.
Temporary skilled migrants will also be able to apply for permanent residency through self-nominated independent pathways.
A key feature of this new visa will be an alternative approach to mobility, with new visa settings, streamlined applications and consideration of trailing employer fees that remove many onerous conditions that tie a migrant to a single employer.
This new model will allow for worker mobility across industries, which better reflects the nature of how skills are used in the labour market.
More Time To Find A New Job
If the employment relationship with a sponsor ceases, visa holders will have 180 days to find another sponsor and will be able to work during this period.
Trailing Employer Fees
The Government will explore a model for employers to pay trailing charges and fees (e.g. monthly or quarterly) rather than upfront fees, to facilitate mobility, to make hiring a new migrant less onerous, and to improve small business access to the migration system.
A new trailing fee model will help to facilitate workers’ mobility and provide scope for job switching.
Streamlined Visa Applications
Visa applications will be backed by a service standard for visa processing, enabling employers to fill a vacancy quickly.
Public Register Of Sponsors To Assist Mobility
A public register of approved sponsors, including the number of migrants sponsored and their occupations, will be developed to assist migrants wishing to find a new sponsor.
This will help migrant workers find new sponsors and give migrant workers a resource to check that a sponsoring employer is legitimate. The register will include details such as:
- the name of approved sponsors
- how many temporary skilled workers they are employing
- what occupations and/or pathway those workers are employed in
Agreement to the entry of these details on the public register will be part of the process for
approval of sponsors of temporary migrants.
Develop A Specialist Skills Pathway To Drive Innovation And Job Creation
The government will create three targeted pathways within the Skills in Demand visa:
Specialist Skills Pathway
The first pathway will be the Specialist Skills Pathway. This pathway will be a new streamlined approach for highly skilled specialists, to ensure Australia can quickly and easily recruit top talent in areas of need.
The Specialist Skills Pathway will be available to applicants who meet the general eligibility criteria (for example, be nominated by an approved employer, meet the health and character requirements) and who are:
- in any occupation, except trades workers, machinery operators, drivers and labourers; and
- earning at least $135,000 (the Specialist Skills Threshold) and no less than Australian workers in the same occupation.
The Specialist Pathway threshold will be $135,000. The Specialist Skills Threshold will be indexed annually.
The Government will commit to a service standard of 7 days median visa processing time for workers in the Specialist Skills Pathway.
Jobs and Skills Australia will have dedicated resourcing to monitor labour market impacts of this pathway to ensure it supports job creation and the upskilling of local workers.
The Department of Home Affairs will establish a monitoring mechanism to ensure that employees are not paid less than their nominated salary.
Develop A Core Skills Pathway To Meet Targeted Workforce Needs
The second pathway in the new Skills in Demand visa will be the Core Skills Pathway. Most temporary skilled migrants will come through this pathway.
The Core Skills Pathway will be available to applicants who meet the general eligibility criteria and:
- whose occupation is on a new Core Skills Occupation List, which relates to occupations identified by Jobs and Skills Australia as being in shortage or where Australia has committed to providing
access to our labour market in relation to that occupation through international trade agreements; and
- who will be paid a salary at or above the TSMIT (to be retitled the Core Skills Threshold, when the new system is implemented), or the relevant average market salary where it is above the TSMIT.
Unlike the Specialist Skills Pathway, trades workers, machinery operators, drivers and labourers will be eligible under the Core Skills Pathway, subject to being identified on the Core Skills Occupation List based on advice from Jobs and Skills Australia, and being paid above the TSMIT (including for roles paid above
the Specialist Skills Threshold).
Legislate Indexation Of Income Thresholds To Maintain System Integrity
The Government will index the new Core Skills and Specialist Skills Thresholds in line with annual movements in Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings. This indexation requirement will be specified in legislation.
Streamline Labour Market Testing Requirements To Reduce Complexity
The Government will immediately move to streamline labour market testing by removing the requirement
to advertise positions through Workforce Australia, and will subsequently increase the validity period from 4 to 6 months.
Establish A Best Practice Service Level Agreement For Processing Times
The Government is committing to clear, fast service standards for visa processing for temporary skilled workers. The Government will establish a median service standard of 21 days for the new Skills in Demand visa and 7 days for the Specialist Skills Pathway.
Student Visa Reforms
Increased English Language Requirements
In early 2024, the Government will increase English language requirements for Student visas:
- the test score required for a Student visa will increase from IELTS (or equivalent) 5.5 to 6.0;
- the test score required for students undertaking an English Language Intensive Course for Overseas
Students (ELICOS) before their main course of study will increase from IELTS (or equivalent) 4.5 to 5.0; and
- the test score required for students undertaking university foundation or pathway programs that deliver reputable English language training will be IELTS (or equivalent) 5.5.
Apply Greater And More Targeted Scrutiny To Student Visa Applications From High-Risk Providers
The Government will introduce a new Genuine Student test for all international students. The Genuine Student test will clearly incentivise applications from genuine students and discourage non-genuine students, whose primary intention is to work rather than study, from accessing Australia’s international
This test will replace the existing Genuine Temporary Entrant requirement to acknowledge that post-study
temporary migration (and beyond) pathways are available for those who may be eligible. At the same time, the new Genuine Student test will be clear that the vast majority of international students in Australia will return home.
Two new Ministerial Directions will be introduced to support the integrity of processing in the student visa caseload:
The first Ministerial Direction will outline key areas of consideration to support decision-makers, including the circumstances of the applicant, such as their academic or career progression and the usefulness of the intended study to their future career prospects. The Direction will be clear in setting the expectations of students who come to complete study in Australia. Those who do not meet those requirements will not be granted a student visa.
The second Ministerial Direction will focus on the prioritisation of processing the visa caseload. A processing priority Ministerial Direction will prioritise student visa applications based on risk-level of providers and will come into effect by the end of 2023, in time to support processing for the 2023–24
student visa peak season. Higher-risk providers will experience slower processing times as visa decision-makers consider the integrity of a provider, as well as the individual student applicants.
Restrict Onshore ‘Visa Hopping’ That Drives ‘Permanent Temporariness’
More recently, the student visa program has been used by some international students and other temporary visa holders to ‘visa hop’ from visa to visa, to extend their stay in Australia when they have little prospect of becoming permanent residents.
The Government will apply additional scrutiny to international students applying for another student visa.
Using the new Genuine Student test, the Government will require any eligible students applying onshore in Australia to provide evidence in their application to demonstrate that any subsequent course is furthering their career or academic aspirations, such as undertaking a practical VET course to complement their degree, or undertaking research to gain a Masters qualification in their field of expertise. Prospective international students who cannot demonstrate this sensible course progression from their initial course of study will not meet the Genuine Student test.
The Government will also restrict Temporary Graduate visa holders from transferring back to Student visas while onshore.
Temporary Graduate Visa Reforms
Increased English Language Requirements
In early 2024, the Government will increase English language requirements for Temporary Graduate visas. The test score required for a Temporary Graduate visa will increase from an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score (or equivalent) of 6.0 to 6.5.
Shorter Post-Study Work Rights
The duration of an initial Temporary Graduate Visa will be shorter. The extension of post-study work rights will no longer be available. Only applicants who studied in a regional area will be eligible for an extension.
The Temporary Graduate visa period under new settings will be as follows:
Initial Temporary Graduate Visa Period
- 2 years for a Bachelor Degree
- 2 years for a Masters by coursework
- 3 years for a Masters by research
- 3 years for a PhD
Eligibility For A Second Temporary Graduate Visa
- Additional 1-2 years for study in a regional area (dependent on location)
Maximum Eligible Age To Increase
The maximum eligible age for a Temporary Graduate visa will be reduced to 35, repositioning the visa as a product for early career professionals who can contribute to the Australian economy over a longer period.
Graduate Visa Streams To Be Renamed
Temporary Graduate visa streams will be renamed as ‘Post-higher Education Work’ and ‘Post-Vocational Education Work’ streams to be more descriptive for the relevant applicants.
The ‘Replacement Stream’ of the Temporary Graduate visa, as well as the Subclass 476 Skilled – Recognised Graduate visa will be abolished.
Clearer Visa Processing Times
Temporary Graduate visa processing times for the ‘Post-Higher Education Work Stream’ will be backed by a 21-day service standard, which will give employers confidence in a student’s post-study options.
Clearer Post Graduate Visa Pathways
The work experience requirement for a TSS visa (and future Skills in Demand visa) will be changed to give Temporary Graduate visa holders more opportunity to move on to a skilled visa.
Proposed reforms to the points test will also give graduates working in skilled jobs faster pathways to permanent residency.
Tailoring Regional Visas And Working Holiday Visas To Support Regional Australia
Designate Visa Processing To Regional Australia As The Highest Processing Priority
The Government will immediately alter Ministerial Direction 100 to make visa processing for migrants sponsored by employers in regional Australia its top visa processing priority. This will help further
streamline visa processing for businesses located in regional Australia that are sponsoring skilled workers.
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In conclusion, we note that the above discussion provides an overview of the key reforms as outlined in the new Migration Strategy released by the Government, including changes that have already been implemented by the Government recently, as well as new reforms contained in the Migration Strategy report, which has just been released.
Australia’s migration laws are complex, and each case is different. We recommend that you seek professional advice if you are interested in applying for a visa to Australia, as being fully informed will give you the best chance of achieving a successful outcome on your case. A migration professional can help you to do this.
For up-to-date advice on applying for a visa to Australia, including how the reforms contained in the new Migration Strategy may impact you, book your confidential consultation with a migration agent in Adelaide. PAX Migration Australia is a leading immigration advice service based in Adelaide.