The Government has introduced two new Bills into Parliament which, once passed, will enable the Minister for Immigration to implement a ballot style system as part of the pre-application process for specified visa subclasses and impose a fee for entering into a ballot. Once the ballot is operating for a prescribed visa subclass, applicants will randomly be selected from a pool of ballot participants, making them eligible to apply for the relevant visa.
How Is A Visa Ballot Being Implemented?
On 16 February 2023, the Government has introduced the following two Bills into Parliament to facilitate the implementation of a visa ballot system:
The Migration Amendment (Australia’s Engagement in the Pacific and Other Measures) Bill 2023
This Bill amends the Migration Act 1958 to allow the Minister for Immigration to implement a visa pre-application process (referred to as a ballot), involving a random selection of eligible applicants who will then be permitted to apply for the relevant visa.
The primary and immediate purpose of the Bill is to facilitate a ballot system for the Pacific Engagement Visa (PEV), which is a new class of visa that the Government is intending to introduce in support of its policy objective to build strong engagement with Pacific nations.
Importantly, following the rollout of the PEV (and accompanying Pacific Engagement Visa Ballot system), the Government is planning to introduce a visa ballot to other visa subclasses (which are yet to be identified).
And so although the Bill specifically refers to how a Pacific Visa Ballot will be conducted in regards to the PEV, it is a useful guide as to how the pre-application process may change (with the introduction of a ballot) for other visa types in the future.
The Migration (Visa Pre-application Process) Charge Bill 2023
This Bill imposes a charge (which may be nil) on those who register as a participant in a ballot. There may be different charges for different ballots, and for different classes of people, as prescribed by the Migration Regulations.
How Will The Pacific Engagement Visa (PEV) Work?
Once the PEV has been implemented, applicants who would like to apply for this visa will first be required to enter into a PEV Ballot. Applicants who are successful in the Pacific Visa Ballot will then be notified that they may apply for the visa, which, if granted, will permit them to permanently reside in Australia.
Partners and dependent children of the selected applicant may also be included in the PEV application as dependent visa applicants.
Why Is The Government Seeking To Introduce A Pacific Visa Ballot?
The Government is of the view that using a Pacific Visa Ballot system is the most appropriate mechanism for choosing applicants for the PEV as the demand for this visa is expected to exceed the number of PEVs that are available annually under Australia’s migration program. A PEV Ballot will provide eligible applicants from participating countries with equal and transparent access to the PEV.
There may be a number of Pacific Engagement Visa Ballots conducted each year such as, for example, one Pacific Visa Ballot for each participating country. There may also be multiple PEV Ballots conducted for certain participating countries if necessary to ensure that the annual program target for these countries is achieved.
Who Will Be Able To Register For The PEV Ballot?
To be eligible to register for the Pacific Engagement Visa Ballot, an applicant will be required to be citizen of a participating country and meet age requirements.
To be eligible for visa grant, the primary applicant will need to have a written offer of employment in Australia and meet standard public interest criteria, including health and character requirements.
Valid visa lodgement and grant criteria for the PEV will be developed once the Bill has been passed.
Additionally, the eligibility criteria for participating in the Pacific Visa Ballot will be based on objective factors such as age or country of passport, meaning that Department of Home Affairs’ officers will not be required to conduct an assessment at this stage. As such, it is proposed that the PEV will operate as a fully online system and so to enter into the PEV Ballot, participants will need to apply online. The random selection of Pacific Engagement Visa Ballot participants will also be undertaken by a computer program.
How Much Will It Cost To Enter A Visa Ballot?
The cost to register as a participant in a visa ballot will be capped at $100, to be indexed annually in line with inflation (to occur on 1 July each year). Note that there may be a $nil charge to participate in a visa ballot.
If a fee applies to enter into a visa ballot, it will be payable at time of registration in the ballot. Be aware that there is provision in the Bill for this fee to be remitted, refunded or waived, or for an exemption to be applied.
A small charge for participating in a visa ballot is considered to be necessary to ensure that those who register for the visa ballot have a genuine intention to apply for the relevant visa if they are successful. Otherwise, there may be people entering into the ballot who do not follow through with applying for the visa, resulting in an inefficient process that may not deliver on the annual program target for grants of the relevant visa.
Also be mindful that a visa application charge will still be payable when applying for the relevant visa (i.e. this is a separate charge to the cost of entering into a visa ballot).
What Are The Benefits Of A Visa Ballot System?
The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill outliness the following benefits of using a ballot to select eligible visa applicants:
- using a ballot system means that the Department can set the maximum number of visa applications that it will receive (because the outcome of the ballot means that only selected applicants can apply for the visa). This avoids the Department receiving a large number of applications that cannot be accommodated within the annual migration program, as well as long visa processing queues and visa refusals where the annual cap has been met. The overalll result is more efficient visa processing and more effective management of Departmental resources;
- more equal and fair access to temporary and permanent migration programs that are regularly over-subscribed (i.e. where the number of prospective applicants may exceed available places);
- it avoids the requirement that visa applicants pay a non-refundable first instalment of the Visa Application Charge (VAC) when lodging a visa application, which may be subject to a lengthy queue due to the limited number of places in the migration program, or refusal where the annual cap has been met. Under the ballot system, although a prospective visa applicant may be required to pay a small registration charge to enter the ballot, they will only be required to pay the VAC if a visa application is made after being selected in the ballot (the number of applicants selected in the ballot will match the number of allocated places in the migration program); and
- by using a ballot, the Government can more accurately target the priority cohorts for particular visas. So, for example, it can set the eligibility requirements to enter the ballot based on specific criteria that are relevant to the particular visa, such as occupation, skills and work experience.
Will The Visa Ballot System Be Applied To Other Visa Subclasses?
The purpose of the Migration Amendment (Australia’s Engagement in the Pacific and Other Measures) Bill 2023 is to provide a framework for the Minister for Immigration to conduct a ballot as part of Australia’s migration program.
It seeks to establish a legislative power for the Minister to arrange a ballot to be conducted in relation to one or more visas and to make a determination, setting out details relating to eligibility to participate in a ballot and the arrangements for how the ballot is to be conducted.
Importantly, according to the Explanatory Memorandum to Bill, it is intended to provide a framework for the ballot process to be used in relation to other visas. This means that the Government also plans to introduce a visa ballot to other types of visas (following the rollout of the PEV visa and the accompanying Pacific Engagement Visa Ballot system). What form this will take and the visa subclasses to which a ballot will apply will depend on the Government of the day and their migration policy priorities.
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In conclusion, we note that the above discussion provides an overview about the legislation which has been introduced into Parliament which seeks to introduce a ballot as part of the pre-application visa process.
Australia’s migration laws are complex, and each case is different. We recommend that you seek professional advice if you are seeking to apply 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 to assess your eligibility for a visa, book your confidential consultation with a migration agent in Adelaide. PAX Migration Australia is a leading immigration advice service based in Adelaide.