Changes to Australian Immigration and Visas in 2021

Changes to Australian Immigration and Visas in 2021

Australia is a popular destination for those looking to start a new life in a new country, and with good reason. From one of the best lifestyles in the world, welcoming culture and beautiful surroundings, to the broad range of career and educational opportunities, it is a country that has so much to offer.

However, as with any country, the government in Australia are constantly reviewing immigration policies to fit the current needs of both society and economy, and that means regular changes to the immigration and visa laws for those newly applying to move to Australia either temporarily or permanently. If you are planning a move now, or you are thinking about Australia as a destination choice for education, work or building a new life permanently, it is important to know just what has changed and how that affects your application.

This year is especially important, as the government are not just reacting to the current need for immigration, but also looking at the consequences of the Covid-19 global pandemic, and this has seen more drastic changes than would be expected otherwise, as travel restrictions throughout 2020 have had an economic impact on the country.

Covid-19 Response

We begin with the changes brought about by Covid-19. Firstly, the government have added in Visa Application Charge refunds for those visa holders who have been prevented from travelling to Australia due to the ongoing travel restrictions.

This includes those who had successfully applied for:

  • Pacific Labour Scheme Visas
  • Prospective Marriage Visas (PMV)
  • Seasonal Worker Programme Visas
  • Temporary skilled Workers Visas
  • Visitor Visas

In addition, a waiver of application fees is now in place for those under the followings schemes who had paid for Visas but prevented from travelling by the pandemic restrictions:

  • Temporary Skilled Workers Re-application
  • Visitor Visas
  • Working Holiday Visas

As the boarder is unlikely to reopen before July 2021 at the earliest, this means that applications to replace expired, unused visas for these schemes will incur no charge from the Australian Government.

There is one additional consequence of Covid-19, and that affects some visa holders directly. This relates to the Biosecurity Act 2015, and it brings in new penalties for breaches.

Proscribed actions relating to the Biosecurity Act include a failure to answer questions asked by a Biosecurity Officer, and knowingly providing false or misleading information in response to a Biosecurity Officer. The consequence of such actions can be a cancellation of visas, and can be cancelled even while holders are still in immigration clearance. A visa cancellation brings with it a 3-year ban for applying for further temporary visas of most kinds.


Migration Numbers

Aside from Covid response, there have been a number of changes to Visa allocations to reflect the changing needs of the country. While overall migration for the year remains unchanged at 160,000 places, the makeup of those numbers has been adjusted quite significantly.

General Skilled Migration allocations have been reduced by 30,000 overall, including a reduction in subclass 189, Skilled Independent, from 16,652 to just 6,500 places. Similarly, the State Nominated Skilled visa, subclass 190, has been cut from 24,968 to 11.200 places. Equally hard hit is the Skilled Work Regional visa, subclass 491, falling from 23, 372 to 11,200 places this year.

This is a consequence of the clear retargeting of the government’s immigration needs, in particular a greater emphasis on Family Stream visas. Here the places have risen from 47.732 to 77,300 places in 2021, and coupled with increases in the Global Talent Stream, up to 15,000 places this year from 5,000 previously, show where government priority lies.

In particular, they have a strong focus on those with the skills to help states and territories overcome the economic impact that the pandemic has caused.


Business, Investment and Innovation Program

The goal here is to target areas of support for the post-pandemic economic recovery, and this program is seeing several changes. First, places have increased to 13,500, however so have qualifying requirements. Applicants will need personal and business assets totalling at least $1.25 million, rising from the previous $800,000, with turnover requirements also increasing from the previous $500,000 a year to $750,000 a year.

In addition, the application fee for this program has risen 11.3%.


Temporary Graduate Visa

Identified as Subclass 485, this new visa program offers graduates an additional one- or two-year post-study right to work for international students who meet the following criteria:

  • Graduate from the regional campus of a registered university or other educational institution with a higher education or postgraduate qualification
  • Retain their residence in that regional area while holding their first Temporary Graduate Visa

The additional Temporary Graduate visa will be valid only if the holder continues to maintain that regional residence.


Partner Visas

There is a significant change to the partner visa program, with applicants from July 2021 being required to pass the English language requirement test. The exact nature of the test has not yet been released. However, it will likely take the form of a basic English test that displays the applicant’s ability to use functional English. As an alternative, the applicant may be able to undertake 500 hours of English language classes as part of the existing Adult Migration English Program.

This new restriction only applies to permanent subclass 801 or subclass 100 stage, and will not be necessary for subclass 300 Prospective Marriage visa, Subclass 309 Partner visa and Subclass 820 Partner applicants.


Opening the Borders

Finally, with all these changes, they only matter once the borders are open and visa holders and others can begin entering the country again. The nature of the pandemic means that things can change rapidly, however currently, the Australian government expect to lift the travel restrictions between March and June 2021.

With a shift in priorities and a focus on specific skills to assist the post-pandemic recovery, Australian immigration has become a more difficult process for some, but opened new opportunities for those with in-demand skills.

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