Immigration 2021-22: Focus remains on skilled migrants and families, borders stay closed

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On Tuesday, 11 May, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivered Australia’s 2021-22 Federal Budget speech. In his speech, the Treasurer announced that Australia’s migration planning levels will remain unchanged for the 2021-22 migration year, and the government will continue to prioritise skilled individuals and families.

The 2021-22 Migration Program will retain its planned ceiling of 160,000 places

The migration planning levels for the 2020-21 year was 160,000 and this number is unchanged for the 2021-22 year.

The decision to keep the places the same was driven by the fact that borders are still closed and will remain closed for at least another 12 months, as announced by the government.

Keeping the borders closed to most travellers and migrants have protected Australia against a surge in COVID-19 infections, and the government wants to continue protecting its people against the virus for as long as it feels necessary.

It’s good news for skilled migrants though

The Australian Government is going to continue focusing on highly-skilled individuals in the new migration year.

The government believes this is the right decision given the fact that Australia will need skilled migrants to help it bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, the government significantly increased the allocated spots for the Global Talent visa to 15,000, which was 10,000 more than the previous migration year.

The Business Innovation and Investment Program also received more places while places for the Skilled Independent, Skilled Nominated, and Skilled Work Regional visas were slashed.

The picture is looking similar for the 2021-2022 migration year with the focus still squarely on Employer Sponsored, Global Talent, and Business Innovation and Investment Program visas.

In total, the Skilled Stream received 79,600 of the 160,000 spaces in the Migration Program.

The family stream gets 77,300 places for the second year in a row

The family stream places will remain at their 2020-2021 planning levels, and the government will also continue to focus on partner visas.

There was a backlog of nearly 100,000 visa applications by September 2020 but the Department of Home Affairs has worked hard to reduce this number since then. Their work was made easier by a massive increase in family stream places in the 2020-21 migration year.

Is there good news for anyone who still wants to apply for a visa?

It may seem as if all is lost for at least another year but this is not the case. We chatted to Maike Versfeld, one of our licensed advisors, to get her input.

“The international border is expected to gradually re-open from mid-2022.

This assumption is however heavily based on a planned full vaccine rollout to be in place by the end of 2021 with the quarantine program on arrival to remain in place.

The government further expects that there will be a gradual return of international students through small phased programs from late 2021 onward.

These assumptions are however relatively uncertain and highly dependent on the status of international Covid-19 outbreaks, possible new strains and the effectiveness of the vaccines.

We have seen the opportunity for some applicants in critical occupations to be able to apply for a travel exemption to Australia’s border restrictions, if they can show that they either provide critical or specialist medical services, have critical skills required to maintain the supply of essential goods and services or deliver services in sectors critical to Australia’s economic recovery where no Australian worker is available.

There are other exemption categories for other applicant groups but the threshold to be granted an exemption is still relatively high.

We can clearly see that partner visa applications are being processed much faster nowadays than still a few months ago.

Luckily, Partner visa subclass 100, 309, 801 and 820 holders can come to Australia under current border restrictions. This bundled with a faster processing has allowed many partners of Australians or permanent residents to reunite during the pandemic.

Important to consider specifically for skilled migrants is that Australia will definitely need to get in offshore critical skills going forward. It is highly unlikely that they will be able to fill skill shortages purely through onshore applicants.

Attracting onshore skills might be the easier and quicker option right now but we can clearly see that Australian employers still look for offshore expertise and even offered jobs to some offshore applicants during the 2020/21 program year.

Some skilled migrants who work in specific target sectors such as Resources, Agri-food and Ag Tech, Energy, Health, Defence and Advanced Manufacturing and Space, Circular Economy, DigiTech, Infrastructure and tourism as well as in financial services and FinTec as well as even certain highly skilled individuals in the Education sector could be able to be considered under the Global Talent category going forward.

One must also keep in mind that applying to migrate to Australia is a lengthy process which often consist of several steps whereby each step might take weeks or sometimes even months.

With this in mind, even if the next 12 months might not look so bright especially for offshore skilled applicants, it can be still worthwhile to start now in order to be ready when things open up again.”

The 2021-22 migration year in summary

The Australian Government set the migration planning levels for the 2021-22 migration year at 160,000 spaces. The skilled stream received 79,600 and the family stream got 77,300 spaces.

Unfortunately, Australia’s international borders are staying closed and the government expects the borders will only open mid 2022.

Our advice if you want to immigrate as a skilled migrant is to start your visa application now. Despite the borders remaining closed! Skilled migrant visa applications often take months to finalise.

Starting your visa application now means you’ll be ready when the borders open up again.

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