Australia's budget and what it means for Visa Bureau clients

The Australian government delivered its budget for the next fiscal year last week and one of the main announcements was the expansion of the next year's skilled migration program.

Australia's federal budget contained
several changes regarding Australian 

How is the Australian skilled migration program being expanded?

The 2012-13 will include a targeted increase of 5,000 places in order to allow Australia to address several skills shortages which have emerged due to the continuing boom in the mining and construction industries.

"The measured increase of 5,000 places, from 185,000 to 190,000, comes in the context of significant skills gaps in both the short and medium term in certain sectors of our patchwork economy," said Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.

While the rapidly expanding mining and constructions industries have created the need for skilled workers in those industries, Australian workers in other industries leaving their current jobs for highly paid opportunities in construction or mining have left other gaps in other industries. The demand for many professions is growing but nursing, ICT and accountancy professionals in particular are continuing to see strong demand for their skills.

Mr Bowen explained that as many as 16,000 places within the migration program will be specifically allocated to the regional sponsored migration scheme for skilled workers to ensure that gaps in specific areas, such as Western Australia, are addressed.

Overseas workers who are entering the country specifically to work in shortage industries will be eligible under the new program to have their Australia visa application fast tracked in a high processing priority group.

"Skilled migrants are increasingly moving to growth regions and places where there is demand, they are complementing rather than competing with our domestic labour force,” said Mr Bowen.

"Our skilled migration program is driven by Australia's genuine skills needs and not simply by those who wish to become Australia residents. We believe we have the balance right."

Other Australia immigration changes

The budget also included an amendment to the health criteria within the migration assessment: potential migrants whose health assessments reveal health conditions which will require further or ongoing treatment risk having their Australia visa application denied if the cost of the treatment exceeds a ‘Significant Cost Threshold’.

The current Significant Cost Threshold is set at AU$21,000 (£13,064) in treatment costs per year; as of 1, July, this threshold will be increased to AU$35,000 (£21,794).

What positives are coming from the changes?

We at the Visa Bureau are pleased at the intentions outlined in Australia’s budget; expanding the skilled migration program while raising the threshold reaffirm Australia’s commitment to welcoming more skilled workers to the country and encouraging them to settle in Australia.

With the expanding industries creating well paid positions combined with the resultant gaps left in other industries, the expansion of the program allows even more people the opoprtunity to help advance and benefit from Australia's continuing prosperity.

What negatives are coming from the changes? 

In an effort to ensure the General Skilled Migration Program (GSM) is cost-effective, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) will also begin charging AU$70 (£43.57) for placing visa labels in passports as of 1, July.

While this is primarily a cost-saving measure, DIAC also hopes to encourage people to utilise the free online facility known as VEVO which allows users to check the credentials of a visa holder and therefore renders a physical passport label redundant.

We understand that DIAC wishes to make its processes as efficient as possible yet we appreciate that many of our clients feel more comfortable travelling through border security or conducting job interviews with physical evidence of their credentials. While this option is still available, we are disappointed that a cost will now be incurred.

- Leonie Cotton is the Casework Department Manager at the Australian Visa Bureau