Introduction

The release of the 2013/14 Federal Budget papers on 14 May 2013 revealed some important changes to Australia’s migration program.

While there are significant costs to the Commonwealth in administering the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), the migration program is also a major source of revenue for the government. The budget papers estimate that DIAC will be responsible for the collection of $1,462.3 million of revenue for the Commonwealth in 2013/14, an increase of $128.6 million from last year. Most of this revenue is collected through visa application charges, which once again will increase from 1 July 2013.

Key Changes

Measures outlined in the 2013/14 Federal Budget include a slight decrease in the skilled migration program. The total number of places in the migration program remains steady at 190,000. Numbers in the Skilled Program will be reduced slightly to 128,550 (a reduction of 700). This reduction will be offset by an increase in the Family Program of 700 places (to 60,885). According to the Budget papers, the increase in the family program can be "largely attributed to the increase of skilled migrants who wish to sponsor their partners and other family members".

The Budget papers also foreshadow a significant increase in the subclass 457 visa application charge from 1 July 2013. The current visa application fee of $455 is set to be almost doubled to $900, which the government expects will raise an extra $198 million of revenue over the forward estimates. Significant fee increases generally result in a rush of last-minute applications, and this extra demand is expected to impact processing times.

Clients are reminded that the government has previously flagged legislative changes to the 457 program to be introduced from 1 July this year. While specific details of these changes have not yet been released, it is expected that they will see the introduction of a “genuineness” criterion for nominated positions and increased scrutiny of generalist occupations (such as “Program or Project Administrator” ANZSCO 511112). Coupled with the proposed introduction of extra fees for dependent applicants in the middle of this year, it is expected that we will see a large increase in the number of applications being lodged before these changes take effect. Employers and visa applicants should take these changes into consideration when considering recruitment timetables for overseas workers.

Conclusion

This budget continues the government’s recent trend of seeking to maximise revenue through increases to visa application fees. In the past, significant changes to the migration program have been buried in the detail of the budget papers. Clients should continue to be aware of possible impacts from the budget as further details become available.