Change is coming to Australia’s migration laws

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On 27 April 2023, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neill announced in a speech to the National Press Club that her department is set on reforming Australia’s migration system.

While most proposed changes are not in motion yet, two changes have been confirmed:

  1. The temporary skilled migration income threshold (TSMIT) is increasing
  2. All temporary skilled workers will have a pathway to permanent residency by the end of 2023

Let’s look at these in detail.

1. The TSMIT is increasing to AUD70,000

The temporary skilled migration income threshold (TSMIT) will increase from AUD53,900 to AUD70,000 on 1 July 2023:

  • New nominations lodged on or after the 1st of July must meet the new TSMIT of AUD70,000 or the annual market salary, whichever is higher.
  • Applications lodged before 1 July 2023 won’t be affected.

Minister O’Neill said an increase to the TSMIT is necessary to attract the skilled migrants Australia needs to ensure a prosperous and secure future.

She explained that Australia uses an income threshold to ensure temporary workers are skilled.

The problem is that the former Australian government froze the TSMIT at AUD53,900 a decade ago. In 2023, that amount is less than the earnings of 90% of Australia’s full-time workforce.

The result, Minister O’Neill said, is “an immigration system which favoured temporary migration, in increasingly lower paid jobs” and does not deliver the skills Australia needs to tackle urgent national challenges.

2. Expanded pathways to residence

By the end of 2023, the Temporary Residence Transition (TRT) stream of the Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) (Subclass 186) will be amended in the following ways:

  • All Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) Visa (Subclass 482) holders will be eligible for ENS visas sponsored by their employers
    • Applicants will need to continue to work in the occupation nominated for their TSS visa(s).
  • Sponsored visa holders will be eligible for ENS TRT after two years of sponsorship on a TSS by their employer – the current requirement is three years
    • Applicants will have to meet all other nomination and visa requirements for the TRT stream of the Employer Nomination Scheme visa
  • The limit on Short Term Stream TSS visa applications that can be made onshore has been removed in the interim

These changes have been welcomed, as they will assist both employers and visa applicants.

Let’s look at the proposed changes

Minister O’Neill declared in her address to the National Press Club that Australia’s migrations system is broken.

She said it’s not attracting the skills Australia needs, and it’s ‘a bureaucratic nightmare’, and ‘slow and crazily complex’ with ‘hundreds of visa categories and subcategories’. Minister O’Neill also said the system is unaligned with Australian values.

To address these problems, Minister O’Neill proposed the following:

  • Prioritising skilled migrants by:
    • Introducing three new pathways for temporary skilled migrants
    • Reforming the points test
    • Adopting a more proactive approach to engage with global talent who can help build Australia’s future
  • Simplifying and streamlining the migration system by:
    • Adopting a data-driven approach to migration to eliminate a lot of the red tape
    • Strongly reducing the number of visa categories
  • Reforming policy settings that drive the exploitation of migrants workers
  • Strengthening the interaction between the international student system and the migration system by:
    • Introducing simpler and faster pathways for international students with the skills Australia needs
    • Tightening the requirements for international students studying in Australia
  • Restoring Australian values in the country’s migration system:
    • Integrity – by ensuring that migration worker exploitation is identified and addressed
    • Fairness – by creating clearer permanent residency pathways for skilled workers and providing clarity for migrants that have less of a prospect of becoming permanent residents
    • Inclusion – by improving and streamlining skills recognition to help more migrants, including secondary applicants, enter the labour market at a level that matches their qualifications

Minister O’Neill added that she is proud of the progress the Department of Home Affairs has already made in reforming the migration system since the Labor Party came into power a year ago.

That progress included dramatically reducing the visa backlog of more than one millions applications, and the recent announcement that New Zealanders living in Australia will have a direct pathway to Australian citizenship from 1 July 2023.

To summarise

The Australian government wants to reform its migration system to ensure a prosperous and secure future for Australia.

The first of the changes is coming into effect on 1 July 2023. On this day, the TSMIT is increasing to AUD70,000. Then, by the end of 2023, all temporary skilled workers will have a pathway to permanent residency.

The remaining proposed changes, as captured in Minister O’Neill’s address, will focus on ensuring that Australia gets the skills it needs while simplifying and streamlining the migration system and putting these three Australian values at its heart – integrity, fairness, and inclusion.

The goal is a system that works in the national interest and that of migrants who can contribute to Australia’s growth.