Last night’s 2017-18 Australian Budget was pitched as a moment to press the “reset” button and recalibrate the country’s financial management in a way that promotes fairness, guarantees security and enables the realisation of opportunity. While various policy changes and programme initiatives were announced, one thing that didn’t change was the unbridled optimism that Australia would somehow return to surplus in 2021. The Budget confirms the government’s expectation that its agencies, including the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), must increasingly generate revenue with fewer resources in order to realise national priorities.
Realising the border’s value as a strategic national “asset”, key Budget measures to generate revenue in the years leading up to 2021 include:
- The introduction of a levy on businesses that employ foreign workers – From March 2018, a new Skilling Australians Fund will collect $1.2 billion over four years to go towards training Australian workers. Small businesses with annual turnovers less than $10 million will have to pay $1,200 per year for a foreign worker seeking a temporary sponsored work visa, along with a one-off $3,000 payment for a foreign worker seeking a permanent sponsored work visa. Larger businesses with annual turnovers exceeding $10 million would pay $1,800 per year per temporary visa holder, along with a one-off payment of $5,000 for each foreign worker sponsored for permanent residence. Little detail has been released in relation to the prospect of exemptions, when a levy must be paid to enable visa grant and how a levy might be refunded where a visa holder abandons their employer by transferring to another sponsor, changing visa status or leaving Australia before their visa expires.
- Visa Application Charge revenue generation is expected to increase by $190 million in 2017-18 as result of an anticipated boost in applications due to the recent skilled migration programme reform announcements – read our recent blog for further details – and new measures on visa applications and pricing.
- A new Temporary sponsored parent visa, to be introduced in November 2017, expected to generate $99 million over the following four years.
Key measures enabling costs reduction and influencing service delivery include:
- Pending closure of the Manus Island facility in Papua New Guinea and the cessation of regional processing arrangements in Nauru
- Restricting access to welfare support available to onshore asylum seekers – The reduction in payments is estimated to save almost $50 million over the next five years
- A new Community Support Programme measure allowing individuals, families, businesses and community groups to propose refugees for migration to Australia if they support the refugee’s settlement and repay certain social security payments, such as Newstart Allowance, paid to the refugee within their first 12 months in Australia
- Further reducing DIBP staff numbers but increasing Administrative Appeals Tribunal staff numbers suggests where people-based decision making will occur
- Further reforming visa processing arrangements by improving existing ICT systems to enable service delivery by “market based providers” as well as introducing new ICT systems to enhance identity verification procedures
TOP 5 IMPACTS FOR USERS OF AUSTRALIA’S IMMIGRATION PROGRAMME
- Pending March 2018 reforms will result in an unprecedented spike in application lodgments, particularly temporary and permanent employer sponsored visa applications, over the next ten months: Applicants will need to be document-ready and prepared to pay for quality service and strategic advice in order to maximise their prospects of success.
- In the lead up to March 2018, businesses will need to reconsider their medium and long-term foreign labour needs: Increased uncertainty and costs involved in sponsoring foreign workers will prompt business to seek guidance with workforce planning and the re-orientation of talent attraction and retention strategies. Creative approaches towards accessing foreign labour within and outside traditional sponsored visa programmes will be required in order to remain competitive.
- Routine application processing will take even longer while resources will be directed towards compliance and enforcement. For example, while the training fund levy will lighten DIBP’s application processing workload, it will require an increase in monitoring to ensure levy fees are not passed on by businesses to foreign workers.
- Pressure will be placed on other streams of the migration programme. As skilled migration programmes become increasingly inaccessible, applicants will look to other migration pathways and will need careful guidance when assessing their options.
- DIBP’s user-pays approach is now entrenched and will be the way forward to lighten the Budget burden: Employer sponsors will need to pick up the tab for training young Australians, Australian families will need to cover the costs of a foreign parent’s onshore temporary stay and communities can now pitch in to meet the costs of supporting a refugee when settling in Australia.
What does the Budget mean for immigration? Higher costs and less certainty. Longer processing times and even less access to decision-makers. More politics and shifting goalposts.
If you’re looking for an immigration lawyer to help you quickly identify and realise the most efficient way forward in these uncertain times, contact Nomos now.