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2020 Federal Budget and Australian Migration Law

8 October 2020

2020 federal budget

With the Federal Budget announcement this week came a number of proposed changes to the Australian migration system. The Australian government has maintained the 2020-21 Migration Program planning level at 160,000 places, however, it expects actual negative migration for the first time since 1946.

It has increased the visas allocated to the Family Stream from 47,732 to 77,300 (nearly 50% of the total Migration Program!) for one year only.

Here we outline some of they key changes that have been suggested by the Australian government and how they affect some visa types.

It is very important to note that some of these changes are proposed changes only and that the law will need to be updated before they take effect. It is very possible that some proposed changes will not be passed into law, as this has happened many times in the past.

Partner visas

In positive news, there has been an increase in the number of visas allocated to the family stream which may see the backlog of partner visas being processed more quickly. Other partner visa announcements include:

  • proposed change to introduce English language requirements for both the visa applicant and the sponsor
  • proposed change to introduce mandatory character checks for Australian partner visa sponsors and increased information sharing
  • Priority processing for partner visa applications where the Australian sponsor lives in a designated regional area

We know that the proposed introduction of English language requirements has been discussed widely in the media and is causing concern for many. It is very important to remember that this proposed change needs to be made into law before it impacts partner visa applications. It is very possible that this change will be rejected by the Australian parliament. In the meantime, the partner visa criteria remain the same. If you are concerned about this requirement, you may wish to apply for your partner visa sooner. We recommend you seek migration advice based on your situation.

Skilled visas

Skilled visa holders are of great importance to Australia as we work to rebuild our economy following the continued impact of COVID-19. In particular, the Global Talent Initiative will receive increased focus going forward. The 2020 Federal Budget proposes to:

  • Prioritise Employer-Sponsored, Global Talent, Business Innovation and Investment Program visas
  • Significantly increase the Global Talent Independent (GTI) program

Investment visas

Similarly, investment visas will play an important role in Australia’s post-COVID-19 economy. The 2020 Federal Budget announced two key proposed changes to this visa type:

  • Significantly increase the Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP)
  • Increase BIIP visa application charges from 1 July 2021
  • Make changes to the BIIP program to focus on higher value investors, business owners and entrepreneurs

Student visas

While many hoped the 2020 Federal Budget would have more to say about borders opening to international students, this was not the case. The Federal Budget’s remained focused on “ensuring that COVID-19 and related travel restrictions do not unduly affect international students and their eligibility for post-study work visas”. This included previously announced changes:

  • A waiver of the visa application charge (VAC) for Student visa (subclass 500) holders who are required to lodge a further Student visa application to complete their studies or to remain in Australia as a result of travel restrictions
  • The ability to apply offshore for international students and recent graduates who are eligible for a Temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485) and unable to travel to Australia
  • The ability for Student visa holders to work more than 40 hours per fortnight in key pandemic-related industries

New Zealand Skilled Independent visa

The government has confirmed it will reduce the income requirement for the New Zealand stream of the Skilled Independent (subclass 189) visa. Eligibility will be extended to Special Category (subclass 444) visa holders who have a taxable income at or above the Temporary Skilled Migrant Income Threshold (currently $53,900) for at least three of the last five income years, including the most recent year.

Visa application charges

The government is going to offer waivers or refunds of the visa application charge (VAC) to those who have been affected by COVID-19 and the travel ban:

  • Prospective Marriage, Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Programme visa holders will be able to access a VAC refund
  • Temporary skilled workers and visitor visa holders will be eligible to have the VAC for a subsequent visa application waived, to allow them to return to Australia once travel restrictions are lifted
  • Working holiday makers will be eligible to have the VAC for a subsequent visa application waived, to allow them to return to Australia once travel restrictions are lifted or otherwise be able to access a VAC refund
  • VAC refunds and waivers will be available to current visa holders who are unable to travel until the border reopens.

We note the above is information only and is not legal advice. This information is current as at the time of publishing. We recommend you speak to one of our migration lawyers for a free 10 minute phone or video call to discuss your visa application if you have any questions. 

An experienced migration lawyer can make all the difference when you need.