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Skill stream under Labor's Migration Program hits historical high

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Anthony Albanese has increased the Migration Program to 195,000 places for 2022-23 (Screenshot via YouTube)

AUSTRALIA'S 2022-23 Migration Program will be vastly different to the 2021-22 program, not just in size but also in composition.

The 2022-23 program has been increased to 195,000 after the 2021-22 program was delivered at 143,556 places — some 16,500 less than the planning level of 160,000.

While the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) suggests COVID was the reason for the shortfall, this seems implausible given the 2020-21 program – when COVID was a much bigger issue – was delivered on target. The shortfall in delivering the 2021-22 program will have exacerbated skill shortages.

 Source: DHA Historical Migration Statistics

The 2022-23 Migration Program has a significantly bigger skill stream — at 142,500, it will be the biggest in our history.

At 52,500, the family stream in 2022-23 will actually be smaller than the 54,294 family stream delivered in 2021-22. Compared to the 2021-22 program, with 68.3 per cent going to applicants already in Australia, the 2022-23 program will have a much larger portion going to offshore applicants.

Ministerial Direction Number 100 indicates the following order of processing priorities:

  1. Visa applications in relation to a healthcare or teaching occupation.
  2. For employer-sponsored visas, visa applications where the applicant is nominated by an approved sponsor with accredited status.
  3. Visa applications in relation to an occupation to be carried out in a designated regional area.
  4. For permanent and provisional visa subclasses, visa applications that count towards the Migration Program, excluding the Subclass 188 – Business Innovation and Investment (Provisional) – visa.
  5. All other visa applications.​

While not explicit in this Ministerial Direction, it appears priority is also being given to applicants with trades and technical skills to assist with shortages in the construction industry.

The table below looks at the composition of the 2022-23 program compared to the 2021-22 program.

Table 1: Composition of Migration Program

Visa Category

2021-22 Onshore

2021-22 Offshore

2021-22 Total

2022-23 Planning

Partners

30,310

15,978

46,288

40,500

Parents

948

3,552

4,500

8,500

Child

712

2,294

3,006

3,000

Other Family

120

380

500

500

Total Family

32,090

22,204

54,29Employer-Sponsored

 

Sponsored

21,538

4,565

26,103

35,000

Skilled Independent

4,655

1,209

5,864

32,100

S/T Nominated Permanent

16,373

3,003

19,376

31,000

S/T Nominated (Prov)

15,055

34,000 (inc Reg Emp Sponsored)

Regional Emp Sponsored (Prov)

3,123

See above

BIIP

1,024

9,472

10,496

5,000

Global Talent Independent

3,274

5,503

8,776

5,000

Distinguished Talent

107

118

225

300

Total Skill

59,355

29,708

89,063

142,400

Special Eligibility

199

0

199

100

Total

91,644

51,912

143,556

195,000

Source: Department of Home Affairs Migration Program

The lower planning level for partners in 2022-23 reflects a decline in applications in both 2020-21 and 2021-22 to around 44,000 per annum and a decline in the backlog from 96,361 by the end of June 2020 to 56,168 by the end of June 2022.

 Source: data.gov.au Temporary Work (skilled) visa program

The backlog clearance took place after DHA recognised limiting places for partners – as it had been doing since Peter Dutton became Immigration Minister – was unlawful. It is one of Dutton's lesser-known immigration scandals.

Chart 2 highlights Dutton's unlawful mismanagement of partner visas — the flatlining and then the decline in partner visa grants while the backlog continued to grow.

The planning level for parents increases from 4,500 in 2021-22 to 8,500 in 2022-23. This is close to the average parent planning level over the last 20 years.

The planning level for employer-sponsored (non-regional) visas has increased from 26,103 in 2021-22 to 34,000 in 2022-23. This is sensible given current skill shortages.

The application rate for this category increased from 24,997 in 2021-22 to 34,980 in 2022-23 and applications on hand increased from 14,379 by end of June 2021 to 22,029 by end of June 2022. This suggests that the large increase in the planning level for 2022-23 should be delivered if processing times can be significantly improved.

The "skilled independent" category had been driven down from over 40,000 in 2016-17 to a low of 5,864 in 2021-22. The planning level in 2022-23 has been increased to 32,100. 

 Source: data.gov.au Migration

The skilled independent category is the most discretionary category in the program and hence the increase reflects the Government's response to skilled labour shortages — although this response should have started in late 2021.

State/territory-nominated permanent visas increase from an outcome of 19,376 in 2021-22 to a planning level of 31,000 in 2022-23. This enables state/territory governments to use their nominations to suit the needs of their jurisdictions, although almost all states are focusing on occupations in the health and aged care, education, construction and ICT sectors.

The allocation for state/territory nominated provisional visas has also increased significantly with most state/territory governments using these visas to encourage a greater level of skilled migration to regional areas.

Planning levels for both the Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP) and Global Talent Independent Program have been reduced to 5,000 places each. This reflects concerns about the design and effectiveness of these visas.

The offshore portion of the skill stream in 2022-23 is likely to be substantially higher than in 2021-22. These skilled migrants are likely to start arriving in the March quarter of 2023. As the labour market is forecast to still be strong at that time, these migrants are likely to quickly get jobs although securing accommodation may be more difficult.

A key issue will be how the Government will respond in 2023-24 when it is forecasting a substantial economic slowdown, a rise in unemployment and much slower employment growth. Generally, Australian governments have cut immigration when the economy slows significantly.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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