Changes to Australia’s immigration program often take place on the 1st of July, and this year was no different.

Some of this year’s changes include decreases to the permanent visa intake, increases to visa application fees, changes to the skilled independent migration points test and post-study visas, more stringent rules for partner visas and the introduction of two temporary regional visas, Designated Area Migration Agreements and a new parent visa.

Reduction in Permanent Visas

In March this year the federal government announced that the intake number for permanent visas would reduce from 190,000 to 160,000, and this change has now come into effect.

The biggest impact will be felt by those seeking to apply for a skilled independent migration visa, with the quota now decreasing from 43,000 to nearly 18,000, and the government has stated that this figure will be maintained for the next for years.

Increases in Visa Application Fees

According to the Department of Home Affairs, most visa application fees will increase by 5.4%. For example, student visas will increase from $575 to $606, skilled migration visas will increase from $3,755 to $3,958 and partner visas will increase from $7,160 to $7,547.

More Points Available for Skilled Migrants

These proposed changes will begin in November 2019 and they will award additional points to applicants who are single, partners of applicants who have good English skills and applicants that are sponsored by a State or Territory government or relative in a regional area.

Skilled migration visa applicants will be awarded 5 additional points if they are nominated for an eligible regional visa, and may also receive an additional 10 points if they have a skilled partner or no partner at all.

Longer Visa Period for International Students

There has also been a significant change to the student visa program with international students now eligible to receive an additional year for a post-study visa if they studied at an educational institution located outside Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and South East Queensland.

Extra Requirement for Partner Visa Applications

One of the biggest changes to the immigration program is the changes made to the partner visa application process. Now, an Australian citizen, permanent resident, or eligible New Zealand resident seeking to sponsor their spouse or de facto partner for a partner visa, will need to have their sponsorship approved first before the partner visa application can be lodged.

Sponsors will now have their criminal history or character assessed by the Department as part of the partner visa application process. If the sponsor fails this assessment, they will be prohibited from sponsoring their spouse or de facto partner for a partner visa.

Regional Migration

In an attempt to increase migration to regional areas of Australia, the Department has introduced two new temporary regional visas and Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMA).

The two new visas, Skilled Employer Sponsored Visa and Skilled Work Regional Visa, will be introduced in November this year and the quota for these visas will be 9,000 and 14,000 respectively.

Those who hold these regional visas will be required to spend at least 3 years in a regional area before they are eligible to apply for permanent residency. There are also plans to introduce a new regional permanent visa in 2022.

DAMAs will allow employers from particular regions to sponsor people for work visas, even if their occupation is not on the relevant occupation lists.

Occupations included in DAMAs can also contain concessions or exemptions for applicants who have lower English language abilities, have not received a skills assessment or do not have work experience.

New Parent Visa

A temporary sponsored parent visa has now been introduced, after it was first announced prior to the 2016 federal election.

To be eligible for this visa, the parent will need to have a sponsor who is an Australian citizen or permanent resident. If the sponsorship is approved, the parent can apply for this visa which will allow them to stay in Australia for up to 5 years.

The government has also announced that there will be a once-off option to renew this visa and that the number of these visas available will be capped at 15,000 per year.

What do These Changes Mean?

The changes made by the Department appears to indicate that the Australian government is trying to crack down on partner visa applicants who are not in a genuine relationship and to attempt to reduce family violence being committed by sponsors.

It also appears that the Department is trying to encourage more people to migrate to regional areas of Australia, which may be a decision that has been made to try and boost an Australian economy that is currently stagnant.

Immigration changes can happen at any point in time, and any future immigration changes may significantly impact on someone’s ability to migrate to, or remain in, Australia. This is why you should always seek legal advice before deciding whether to apply for an Australian visa.