The federal government will crack down on student visas and ‘visa hopping’, while making it easier for highly skilled migrants to work in Australia, as part of a major overhaul to fix the ‘broken’ migration system.
The government will release the long-awaited migration strategy on Monday, outlining plans to reduce barriers for highly skilled migrants, properly regulate lower-paid migration and prevent system exploitation.
After a lull during the Covid-19 pandemic, the net migration figure peaked at more than 500,000 people last financial year – the highest in history – fuelled by international students who accounted for more than half of those arrivals.
The crackdown comes after a new poll found that almost two-thirds of Aussies want Anthony Albanese’s government to cut migration after numbers surged since the pandemic ended.
The Resolve Political Monitor for Nine newspapers found that 62 per cent of voters said the migration intake – which is set to top 500,000 this year – is too high.
Labor has announced an overhaul of Australia’s immigration process after more than 500,000 migrants entered the nation in the last financial year, the highest in history (stock image)
Australia’s net overseas migration figure was on track for 440,000 in 2023-24, but the 25 new policy commitments and areas for future reforms to be unveiled on Monday are set to slow that down to a more sustainable 375,000, the Daily Telegraph reported.
This week’s mid-year economic update will show that figure will slow even further to 235,000 by 2026-27.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the record migration figure was in part due to a post-Covid catch up, but also due to the system Labor inherited which ‘have led to loopholes and rorts in international education’, noting that student visa refusals had tripled in 2022-23.
‘The government’s targeted reforms are already putting downward pressure on net overseas migration, and will further contribute to this expected decline,’ she said.
‘Having inherited a basket case of an immigration system from the Coalition, we’ve worked around the clock to strike the best balance in Australia’s migration system.
‘If we kept the settings we inherited from the Coalition, we would not expect to see the same reductions in migration levels this financial year and next.’
The overhaul will drastically reduce the number of student visas being used as a gateway for work visas, by lifting English requirements for international students and graduates.
There will also be greater, and more targeted scrutiny on student visa applications.
To date, there has been a no-questions-asked policy with student visas in the past, but would-be students will now need to explain why they want to come to Australia to study, and how that will benefit them and the country.
Education Minister Jason Clare said the strategy ‘sends a clear message that we will act to prevent the exploitation of students and protect Australia’s reputation as a high-quality international education provider’.
There will also be an overhaul to the system’s settings to reduce ‘permanent temporariness’ by shortening graduate visas and stopping onshore ‘visa hopping’.
The government will also lift the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold to $70,000 and index it annually.
This will close down pathways for students who transition to work but fail to reach the minimum salary requirements within two years.
The government’s strategy includes turning away from low-skilled workers and students and towards high-skilled workers in industries that are facing labour shortages (stock image)
At the same time, the government’s strategy will reduce barriers for job-creating highly skilled migrants.
The government promised businesses would receive seven-day approvals on visa’s for migrants skilled in industries facing labour shortages.
There will also be streamlined labour market testing and new support for start-ups to get the workers they need.
The strategy will also create a new talent and innovation visa.
Ms O’Neil said the changes will help Australia get the skills it needs, especially in healthcare, the digital economy, and jobs need for the transition to net-zero.
More broadly, she said the strategy was ‘all about getting migration working for the country’.
‘Including by the right settings to ease workforce shortages that are holding our country back without putting undue stress on other parts of our country,’ she said.
‘We’ll always put the best interests of Australians first, and that’s what people will see in the migration strategy.’
The strategy follows the Parkinson review, published earlier this year, which found the visa system was ‘so badly broken’, and that there had been a ‘deliberate decision to neglect the system’.
The release of the government’s strategy comes after a new poll found that almost two-thirds of Aussies want Anthony Albanese ‘s government to cut migration (pictured, Clare O’Neill)
On Saturday, Anthony Albanese pledged to fix the system and committed to bringing migration back to ‘sustainable levels’. However, he could not be drawn on whether the government had a target for net overseas migration.
‘We have a plan to fix migration by ensuring Australia can get the skilled workers that Australia needs, by putting an end to any abuse and any rorts,’ the Prime Minister said.
‘The new migration strategy will bring migration back to sustainable levels.’
Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the migration strategy was about making sure Australia had a ‘better calibrated, better targeted migration system that delivers in our national economic interest’.
‘A lot of work, a lot of consideration has gone into the policies that Clare O’Neil will be announcing tomorrow,’ he said on Sunday.
‘We want to better target our migration system so it delivers for our national economic interest, and that’s what the immigration strategy will be about.’
The strategy follows a suite of other measures already taken by the government, including closing Covid-19 concessions by ending the Pandemic Event visa and uncapped international students working hours and tackling exploitation of the visa system.