Australian government announces visa changes for 2020-21 migration year

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Migrants and immigration advisors have anxiously awaited the details of Australia’s 2020-21 migration progammes. Now the wait is over. The Australian government announced the updates in the Federal budget that was delivered on Thursday, 6 October.

While the total number of available visas stay the same at 160,000 spots, there are plenty of changes in the skilled work category and the family category. These and all other changes are valid from June 2020 to July 2021.

Skilled work visa changes

It’s good news for Employer Sponsored, Global Talent and Business Innovation and Investment Program applicants. Australia has said that the Department of Home Affairs will prioritise these visas within the Skilled Stream. This is to aid Australia’s post-COVID economic recovery and to boost local jobs.

The Department of Home Affairs has already put into effect a new Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List with 17 critical occupations on it. This list is specifically for employer sponsored visas.

In turn, the Global Talent visa and the Business Innovation and Investment Program will create jobs and bring money into the country.

The number of allocated spots

There are slightly less Employer Sponsored visas available in the 2020-2021 migration year. Spots for Provisional Business Innovation and Investment visas and the Global Talent Independent visas, on the other hand, have doubled and tripled respectively!

  • Employer Sponsored visa: 22,000 visas (30,000 in the 2019-2020 year)
  • Provisional Business Innovation and Investment visa: 13,500 (6,862 in the 2019-2020 year)
  • Global Talent Independent Program: 15,000 (5,000 in the 2019-2020 year)

When it comes to the three most popular skilled work visas, the available spots have decreased significantly:

Family stream visas

Australia has allocated an enormous 77,300 spots to the family stream in the 2020-21 migration year. Of those, 72,300 spots have been allocated to partner visa applications.

This change was most likely made to clear up some of the partner visa backlog that sat at nearly 100,000 visas in September.

Partner visa changes

The most talked-about change to partner visas is the requirement that partners of Australians must pass an English language test before gaining permanent residency. The Australian partner must also meet this requirement if he or she is a permanent resident and not a citizen.

If approved in parliament, this change will come into effect mid-2021.


  • Mandatory family sponsorship provision for partner visas will be implemented, requiring character checks and sharing of personal information with the applicant, and enforceable sponsorships obligations
  • Partner visa applicants where the sponsor resides in a designated regional area will enjoy prioritisation in the 2020-2021 migration year.

Visa refunds and waivers

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, many visa holders have been unable to enter Australia. Some of these visa holders will now be able to get Visa Application Charge (VAC) refunds or qualify for visa waivers:


Visitor visa holders who are overseas and whose visas have expired or will expire between March 2020 and December 2021 will be eligible for a waiver when they apply for a new visa.

Working holiday makers

Backpackers on Working Holiday Maker visas who have been unable to come to Australia or who have had to leave Australia early due to COVID-19 will also be eligible for a waiver, when they decide to return to Australia.

Those who are unable to return because they have passed the age limit for a Working Holiday Maker visa will be able to claim a refund.

Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme workers

Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme visa holders whose visas were granted before 20 March 2020 and have been unable to travel to Australia due to COVID-19 will also be eligible for a refund of the VAC.

Temporary skilled workers

Temporary Skills Shortage and Temporary Work (Skilled) Work visa holders will qualify for a refund for subsequent applications if they:

  • have not made their initial entry to Australia due to travel restrictions, or
  • have returned home due to COVID and who’d like to apply for a visa again.

Prospective Marriage visa holders

Prospective Marriage visa holders who have been unable to enter Australia before their visas expired due to COVID-19 travel restrictions will also qualify for VAC refunds.

Refunds will ensure that these visa holders are able to apply for another visa to travel to Australia and marry their Australian partners once travel restrictions have been lifted. The Department of Home Affairs will prioritise applications from visa holders whose visas have expired.

Prospective Marriage visa holders whose visas are still valid will qualify for visa extensions.

In summary…

There were 160,000 visa spots available in 2020 and this remains unchanged in 2021. There are, however, less spots available in the skilled work category, which is one of the most popular visa categories.

It’s not all bad news though. The allocated spots for the Provisional Business Innovation and Investment visa and Global Talent Programme have increased by 6,638 and 10,000 respectively.

Australia has also kept space for more than 72,000 partner visas. Furthermore, the government is Visa Application Charge refunds and visa waivers to visa holders in five categories.

These last two announcements are welcome reprieves in what has been a strange and unusual year!

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