By Sharon Kan, Australian-qualified lawyer and Registered Migration Agent (MARN: 1387899), ASG Immigration, Sydney Australia

On 6th October the Australian Government announced a new migration programme which will be in place until the end of June 2021.  It comes without surprise that COVID-19 and its radical effect on the Australian economy has significantly influenced Australia’s migration programme for the coming year.  The Government’s focus is on Australia’s economic recovery, protecting Australians from the disease and increasing employment as well as social cohesion.  We have summarised the key changes below.

COVID-19 travel restrictions

Further to our previous alerts, COVID-19 travel restrictions (both in and out of Australia) remain in place until at least the end of this year, and most likely well into next year.

Temporary visa applicants/holders wishing to enter Australia must apply for a travel exemption beforehand.  Likewise, Australian citizens and permanent residents wishing to depart Australia who are not automatically exempt from the restrictions must apply for a travel exemption beforehand.  If this is not granted, the person will be denied boarding at the airport and will not be permitted to travel.  Anyone entering Australia remains subject to a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine programme at their own expense.

Employer sponsored visas

The Australian Government will be looking to employer sponsored migration to drive Australia’s skilled migration intake, while at the same time ensuring that Australian citizens and permanent residents are given work opportunities before these are offered to foreign nationals.

Australia: Latest Developments in Australian Immigration

As part of their goal to protect Australian jobs, the Government has introduced a more stringent Labour Market Testing (LMT) requirement.  If job advertising is required as part of LMT, the role must have been advertised on the Government’s JobActive website AND at least two other acceptable mediums.  This means employers will need to provide at least three job advertisements (one on JobActive and two on other national recruitment websites/media) before they can nominate a foreign national for a work visa.  The Government’s LMT requirements are very prescriptive.  Failure to follow one of their requirements will, in most cases, result in the refusal of the nomination application and the loss of monies paid towards government charges (which can be significant).

Global Talent Independent (GTI) programme visas

The GTI programme was introduced in 2019 to attract highly skilled migrants who are able to command a salary higher than AU$153,600 and who work in one of the following target sectors:

  • AgTech
  • Space and Advanced Manufacturing
  • FinTech
  • Energy and Mining Technology
  • MedTech
  • Cyber Security
  • Quantum Information, Advanced Digital, Data Science and ICT

There were 5,000 places available under the GTI programme in 2019-2020.  As part of its goal to boost Australia’s economic recovery, the Government has tripled this to 15,000 places in 2020-2021, in the hope that these highly skilled migrants will create jobs and economic opportunities for Australia.

Business Innovation and Investment Programme (BIIP)

The Government has introduced changes to the BIIP program as a quality control measure, and increased the number of places to 13,500.  Again, the Government hopes that by attracting highly skilled migrants under the BIIP program, this will create jobs and economic opportunities for Australia.

Partner visas

Currently there is a large processing backlog so there is a significant number of Partner visa applications (both onshore and offshore) still in the pipeline.  Estimated processing times are around two years or more.  We welcome the Australian Government’s announcements that they have increased the number of available places to 72,300 – this will hopefully reduce the backlog and shorten processing times.

Most of these places will be for onshore Partner visa applicants (i.e. applicants who are already in Australia).  Furthermore, the Australian Government has announced that they will prioritise applications where the Australian spouse/partner resides in a regional area.

There are some changes on the horizon which are of concern.  In November 2018 the Australian Government passed legislation which would require the Australian spouse/partner to apply to be approved as a sponsor before their spouse/partner can lodge a Partner visa application.  This is designed to try and reduce the incidence of family violence often inflicted on vulnerable migrant partners.  So far the changes have not yet been implemented, but the Government has announced their intention to implement these measures next year.

The Australian Government has also announced plans to introduce an English language requirement for Partner visa applicants, and Australian permanent resident (not citizen) sponsors.  It is not yet confirmed what level of English will be required, and what the consequences will be if the applicant/sponsor cannot demonstrate that level of English.

Parent visas

The Australian Government has announced that 4,500 places will be available for Parent visas in 2020-2021.  This is in line with the number of Parent visas granted in 2019-2020.  However, this does not cover the actual number of Parent visa applications being made and is not sufficient to reduce the significant backlog still in the pipeline.

Applicants can still lodge Parent visa applications, however it is likely that the backlog (and processing times) will only continue to increase unless the Australian Government introduces meaningful measures to address these.

As you can see, Australian immigration law is very complex and is becoming even more difficult to navigate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Should you or your clients need assistance with Australian or UK immigration matters, please do not hesitate to contact us – we would be happy to help.

By Sharon Kan, Australian-qualified lawyer and Registered Migration Agent (MARN: 1387899), ASG Immigration, Sydney Australia

ASG Immigration offers advice and practical assistance to a variety of clients, including multi-national corporations, SMEs, entrepreneurs, investors, and high net worth individuals.