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Unveiling Australia's New Migration Strategy: Navigating Changes, Challenges, and Opportunities


On December 13, 2023, the highly anticipated Migration Strategy was unveiled, marking a significant milestone in Australia's immigration landscape. Spanning 100 pages, this comprehensive document delineates the nation's immigration reform, offering a visionary outlook for the next decade.


With a focus on eight pivotal reform objectives, the strategy introduces over 25 new policies set to unfold across three distinct phases. Key areas of transformation include student visas, temporary work visa for graduates, and skilled visas.

Complementing this strategy is the Migration Strategy – Action Plan, providing a detailed timeline for the phased implementation of reforms and consultations on the trajectory of future changes.


Without delay, let's delve into the salient points of this crucial development.

 
Summary of 8 Key Actions
  1. Targeting temporary skilled migration to address skills needs and promote worker mobility 

  2. Reshaping permanent skilled migration to drive long-term prosperity

  3. Strengthening the integrity and quality of international education 

  4. Tackling worker exploitation and the misuse of the visa system 

  5. Planning migration to get the right skills in the right places

  6. Tailoring regional visas and the Working Holiday Maker program to support regional Australia and its workers

  7. Deepening our people-to-people ties in the Indo-Pacific

  8. Simplifying the migration system to improve the experience for migrants and employers. 

Policy Roadmap and the Path Forward
  1. What is already being implemented, or soon be implemented

  2. Will be implemented by the end of 2024 at the lates

  3. In 2024, there will be an open call for comments

New Skills in Demand Visas

A revamped visa, titled the Skills in Demand visa, is poised to supplant the existing TSS 482 visa. The new visa will be divided into three tiers:

  • Specialist skills pathway: There will be no occupation list for this pathway and a processing turnaround of 7 days. It is designed for highly skilled individuals with a tentative annual salary requirement exceeding $135,000. Trades occupations, machinery operators, drivers and labourers will be excluded from this visa category, and 3,000 places will be allocated each year.

  • Core skills pathway: This pathway is expected to contribute to the bulk of visas within the program, and a new Core Skills Occupation list will be developed, including trade workers and more. This list will undergo regular updates aligned with the dynamic demands of the labour market and will cater to individuals earning an annual salary equal to or higher than TSMIT.

  • Essential skills pathway: Tailored for individuals earning below the TSMIT, this visa will entail union supervision, confine eligibility to specific regions, and impose a cap on the visa allocation. Further specifics are yet to be determined, with public consultation scheduled to commence in early 2024. At this stage, discussions have hinted at aged care and disability care as potential focus areas.

The fresh visa allows a validity of up to four years, offering a distinct advantage over the previous TSS482. Visa holders will enjoy a transparent route to permanent residency and increased flexibility in changing employers. Employers who are already registered will be publicly disclosed, facilitating smoother transitions for visa holders between different employers.


The Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) will undergo annual adjustments in line with the average weekly wage. As of now, TSMIT stands at $70,000 per year. 

Skilling Australians Fund

In the existing Employer Sponsorship Scheme, employers bear a one-time SAF (Skilling Australians Fund) fee alongside the application fee.


However, as part of the reform aimed at providing visa holders greater flexibility in changing employers, the government is contemplating the prospect of receiving contributions to the Skilling Australians Fund in smaller, more manageable instalments. This could involve transitioning to a payment structure such as monthly or quarterly instalments.

Simplify Labour Market Testing

The Labor Market Testing (LMT) process is undergoing streamlining. A recent update on December 8th revealed a significant change:


  • The requirement to advertise on the Workforce Australia website has been removed and now only needs to be advertised on two valid platforms.

  • The validity of the advertising period will increase from 4 months to 6 months.

As part of ongoing reforms, the LMT will gradually phase out. This transition will occur as Jobs and Skills Australia enhances their data on skills shortages. Simultaneously, the development of a Core Skilled Occupation List will serve as an alternative to the traditional LMT.

Points Tests

The points test will be reviewed. A discussion paper, scheduled for release later in 2023 (despite it being mid-December already), will invite further consultation. The impact on state/territory nomination and regional visas (190/491 visas) will also be considered.


This adjustment aims to expedite the pathway to permanent residency, particularly for Australian graduates engaged in skilled jobs.

Student Visas

Significant modifications are in store for the student visa program, with no specified limit on available spots. Instead, other immigration policies will be employed to regulate numbers, including:

  • Increase English language requirement for student visa applicants – planned to start in early 2024

    • the test score required for a Student visa will increase from IELTS (or equivalent) 5.5 to 6.0

    • the test score required for student undertaking a ELICOS before their main course of study has been changed to IELTS 5.0

    • the test score required for student undertaking university foundation/pathway programs has been changed to IELTS 5.5

  • Strengthening criteria for educational institutions, refining qualifications for courses eligible for student visas, with a particular emphasis on retaining higher education offerings.

  • Introducing a new Genuine Student Test (GST) to replace the current Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) assessment.

  • Strengthen the review of the authenticity of the study visa

    • Two Ministerial Directions will be issued, the first directive will be clearer to help visa officers identify genuine students, and the second directive (which is now in place) will clarify the priority student visas to be processed. Additionally, the Department has assigned varying risk levels to different schools/educational providers. A direct correlation exists between the school's risk level and the pace of student visa processing, with lower-level schools experiencing slower processing times.

Temporary Graduate Visa (TGV 485 visa)

Significant changes are on the horizon for the 485 visa, including:

  • Increase the English language requirement from IELTS 6 to 6.5 (PTE/other tests equivalent) – to be implemented in early 2024

  • Shorten the visa valid duration for 485 – to be implemented by mid-2024

    • Bachelor - 2 years; Master (Coursework) - 2 years; Master (Research) - 3 years; PhD - 3 years

    • Proposed cancellation of the 2-year 485 visa extension for eligible course graduation

    • A second TGV for students studied in a regional area for 1-2 years (reserved)

    • Proposed cancellation of the Replacement Stream, (the current policy says that before July 1, 2027, those who meet the conditions can submit it).

  • Reduce the age threshold from 50 to 35 years old - to be implemented in mid-2024

  • Proposing restrictions on new graduate visa holders from renewing their student visas onshore.


In summary, starting from mid-2024, the 485 visa will eliminate several previous preferential policies. For those eligible for course extensions or replacement stream conditions, it is recommended to submit the application promptly and not delay the process.

Regional Visas

The government acknowledges that the current remote migration strategy has not been succ


le in remote areas. The government will soon amend the Ministerial Direction 100 to ensure priority processing for visa applications for the Regional Visa, including the 494 visa.


The government will review the remote migration system and Working Holiday Maker program to ensure that migrants can support the development goals of remote areas and do not contribute to the exploitation of migrant workers.

Working Holiday Makers

The length of stay and the 88-day rule for working holiday visas are still under review, and there are no changes to the WHM program at this stage.

Talent and Innovation Visa

The government is contemplating the creation of a more efficient 'Talent and Innovation' visa tailored for highly skilled immigrants possessing the sought-after skills. This initiative, known as the Global Talent Initiative, aims to spotlight a select group of immigrants capable of making substantial contributions to Australia.

 

In contrast to the prevailing Business Innovation and Investment Program, where over 80% of company directors invest in small retail or hospitality, the new visa seeks to redirect focus to industries pivotal for driving Australia's future innovation and productivity. This strategic shift represents an effort to attract a limited yet impactful number of highly qualified immigrants, including high-performing entrepreneurs, significant investors, and global researchers.

 

As the government designs these new visas, there is no intention to introduce fresh quotas (such as the 188 quotas) for the Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP) visas.

Regulating Study Abroad Agents and Registered Migration Agents (Strongly Supported!)

The government is contemplating an extension of the Migration Agents Registration Authority's jurisdiction to encompass the regulation of study-abroad agents. This move signifies a proactive step towards enhancing oversight within this domain.


In conjunction with this, there is a commitment to fortify the regulation of registered migration agents, although specific details are not delineated in the new plan. Simultaneously, there will be an intensified crackdown on unscrupulous migration service providers, accompanied by heightened financial penalties.


To further ensure the integrity of the immigration system, the government plans to initiate consultations on the feasibility of limiting the involvement of unregistered overseas immigration service providers. Stringent restrictions and monitoring mechanisms will be implemented to oversee proposals from non-registered immigration service providers, safeguarding the visa submission process from any potential disruptions.

Conclusion
The recently unveiled Migration Strategy by the government exhibits elements of both rationale and potential shortcomings.

The logic behind augmenting English proficiency requirements for immigrants is evident, given the language's official status in Australia and its ubiquitous use in various facets of life. This measure aligns to foster effective communication, social engagement, and seamless integration into Australian society for temporary and permanent residents.


Moreover, the strategy rightly underscores the imperative of addressing skill shortages in the labour market. Given Australia's status as an economically advanced nation grappling with an ageing population and labour deficits, prioritizing the attraction of highly skilled individuals and those with specific expertise is a strategic necessity.


However, certain aspects, such as the reduction of the age threshold for the 485 visas from 50 to 35, raise concerns, particularly for older PhD students. The potential impact on individuals who surpass the age limit upon completing their studies appears overlooked, and there seems to be a gap in considering how to retain this cohort of highly skilled workers.


As the government finalizes and announces policies, we advocate for a more comprehensive, fair, and effective migration strategy, urging careful consideration of various factors and the release of additional details to ensure a well-rounded and inclusive approach.



If you find yourself navigating visa-related challenges or have inquiries regarding the evolving Australian Migration Strategy, please feel free to connect with us at MEA Group or Integro Lawyers. Our commitment is to offer expert guidance and support throughout your journey in the Australian education and immigration landscape. Your questions and concerns are paramount to us, and we stand ready to assist you at every stage.


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