Due to the impact of COVID-19, 2020 has been an unprecedented year. From lockdown to border closure and travel ban, many changes have occurred in Australian Immigration this year. Now that 2020 is finally over and as we are in the new year; let us keep ourselves abreast of the new immigration changes that are expected to be in place in 2021.

Are you ready for the Australian Immigration changes in 2021? Let us have a sneak peek into what is planned for 2021 in Australian Immigration.

Migration Program Levels

For the 2020-21 program year, the migration program level would stay on at 160,000. Though the quota stays the same, there will be a change in the distribution of the quota. The family stream will be increased from 47,732 places to 77,300.  Employer-Sponsored, Global Talent, Business Innovation and Investment Program visas will be given priority in order to ensure that Australia recruits talented individuals to help with the economic recovery.  Partner visa applicants and Onshore visa applicants in regional areas will be given priority so as to encourage migration to regional areas of Australia.

Business, Investment and Innovation Program

The purpose of the 2020-21 migration program is to support the economic recovery post-COVID-19. Because of this reason, investment and innovation program and places for the business, has increased to 13,500. From 1 July 2021, the government will be improving and streamlining the operation of the Business Innovation and Investment Program. Charges for visa application will also increase by 11.3%.

To make sure the program is attracting migrants with proven business skills, one of the main changes is that the requirements for Business Innovation visa holders will be increased. To prove their business expertise, business Innovation visa holders will need to hold business and personal assets of $1.25 million (up from $800,000) and have an annual turnover of $750,000 (that is up from $500,000)

Global Talent Independent program

A Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce will be formed. The objective of the task force is to draw international businesses and outstanding talents to Australia to help with the post-COVID-19 economy recovery. It builds upon the current Global Talent Initiative and Business Innovation and Investment Program.  

The GTI program is expected to be tripled to 15,000.

Subclass 485

A new initiative for an additional Temporary Graduate visa with an extra one or two year of post-study work rights for international students by the Department of Home Affairs has been announced for students who have the below prerequisites.

  • A graduate belonging to the regional campus of a registered university or institution with a higher education or postgraduate qualification; and
  • Continue ongoing residence in a regional area whilst keeping their first Temporary Graduate (subclass 485) visa
  • The second Temporary Graduate visa will require ongoing residence in a regional area.
  • The definition of regional Australia will be the same as the definition for skilled migration for this purpose – all of Australia excluding Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

So as to be qualified for this visa extension, students are required to have graduated from a regional institution and taken up residence (including all work and study) for a minimum of two years in a regional area immediately before applying for their second 485 visa. The second Temporary Graduate visa is also offered to existing post-study 485 visa holders who have graduated from a regional institution, and who will have taken up residence (including all work and study) for a minimum of two years in a regional area immediately before applying for their second 485 visa. Visa application fee is $650 main applicant, $325 for spouse or partner and $165 for children under 18. Applications can be made from 21 Jan 2021 onwards.

  • International graduates who studied and lived in Category 2 will qualify for a further 1 year on a second Temporary Graduate visa.
  • International graduates who studied and lived in Category 3 will qualify for a further 2 years on a second Temporary Graduate visa.
  • Bachelor’s degree (including Honours): 2 + 1 year (for cities and major regional centres) or + 2 years for regional centres and other regional areas)
  • Masters by coursework: 2 + 1 year (for cities and major regional centres) or + 2 years for regional centres and other regional areas)
  • Masters by research: 3 + 1 year (for cities and major regional centres) or + 2 years for regional centres and other regional areas)
  • Doctoral degree: 4 + 1 year (for cities and major regional centres) or + 2 years for regional centres and other regional areas)

Family stream program and visas

The government has earmarked 77,300 places for family visas and new changes have been introduced to partner visas. 

Partner Visas

We will be witnessing new changes to partner visa applications depending on the budget. One of the most major changes to the partner visa is the requirement for English. Applicants and sponsor need to pass the English language requirement. The goal of this test is to encourage social cohesion and economic participation.

For subclass 300 Prospective Marriage visa, Subclass 309 Partner (Provisional- offshore) visa and Subclass 820 Partner (Provisional-onshore) the language requirement will not be in place. This is the only requirement for the permanent subclass 801 or subclass 100 stage.

You may have to sit for the English language test, if you are on the provisional partner visa. The difficulty of the test is not determined as of yet, it most likely will be a basic English test, and the applicant has to demonstrate functional English.

The applicant should undertake approximately 500 hours of English language classes through the Adult Migration English Program (AMEP) as an alternative to the English language test.

It is stipulated that the permanent resident sponsors should display the same level of English language aptitude as the visa applicant.

It is expected that these changes will come into effect from 1 July 2021.

General Skilled Visas

In the past few months, the overall points to receive an invitation has also plummeted dramatically. The outcome of October 2020 invitation round are as follows:

Subclass 189 – 65 points was the lowest score to receive an invitation. This is a significant drop from the prior months, where the lowest score to get an invitation varied between 90 -110.  The lowest for the whole year was 65 points, though this may happen if you have an occupation on the PMSOL.

Subclass 491 – For a subclass 491 visa, 65 points continued to be the lowest score to get an invitation. The 65 points is inclusive of the extra 15 points granted to subclass 491 visa.

Though there is a drop in points to be given an invitation, numerous people who obtained the invitations are in targeted sectors. This is in keeping with the government goal to draw migrants to assist with post-COVID-19 recovery.

There was no information on pro-rata occupations for many months. The minimum points score has been N/A. It is probable that no invitations were made for these occupations during these times.

With people in the targeted sectors receiving priority over other sectors, we expect this trend to continue through to 2021.

Employer – Sponsored Visas Concessions

Transitional arrangement for COVID-19 affected Subclass 457/482 holder.

You must hold a subclass 457/482 and have worked for your employer for at least three years full time in order to be eligible for a subclass 186 TRT visa. Numerous businesses have been adversely affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic and as a result, workers’ hours have been reduced or been told to take unpaid leave.

In view of the above, the government has established laws that permit subclass 457/482 visa holders to apply for the subclass 186 TRT in spite of not working full-time throughout the concession period. This is aligned to the outbreak of the pandemic. The beginning of the concession period was 1 February 2020.

Higher Income Threshold and Age exemptions

You will continue to be eligible for the age exemption even if your earnings have dropped due to COVID-19, if the age exemption applies to you on the basis that you are earning at the Fair Work High Income Threshold (currently $153,600) to meet the 186 visa requirements. The Department could employ the pro-rata income threshold.

The amendment is pertinent to all applications submitted on or after 1 February 2020 and before 24 November 2020 and not yet decided, or applications made on or after 24 November 2020.

Skilled Migration Occupation Lists Review

The changes to MLTSSL/STSOL occupations are deferred until further notice. DHA have verified these changes will not come into effect until there is improvement in the COVID effected employment market. This is presently scheduled for March 2021 and perhaps could be further delayed beyond the 2020-2021 financial year.

Student Visas

Onshore Student Visas

Since the COVID-19 epidemic, the number of subclass 500 visa applications submitted by onshore applicants has dropped. Nevertheless, the drop is not drastic as applicants are already onshore.  The border closure will have a smaller impact than offshore applicants. In order to extend their stay, some onshore applicants could also re-apply for a student visa in Australia, as they may not be in a position to travel back home. Generally, the decrease in subclass 500 applications for onshore applicants is comparatively marginal in comparison to offshore applicants.

Offshore Student Visas

Data from the Department of Home Affairs show a speedy reduction of subclass 500 visa applications submitted by offshore applicants. This is logical because the closing of borders has a substantial impact on the applicant’s capability to travel to Australia. Most of the months from April 2020, the reduction in the number of applications submitted has been more than 50% in comparison to the previous year.

The government has put in place measures to support the education industry, to combat the negative impact of COVID-19 on the education sector.

A few of the support measures include:

  • Waiver of student visa fees to let students submit an additional student visa application to finish their studies.
  • Students who commenced studies online because of COVID-19 will be able to apply for a Subclass 485.
  • The impact of COVID-19 on the education sector will prevail some time, though some students may decide to enrol to study online. Numerous students will be impacted until travel restrictions are removed.

Australian Borders Opening

According to the budget forecast formulated by the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, tentatively the travel restrictions could be lifted between March 2021 and 30 June 2021.

Based upon the stated policy, the present plan (Between July to December 2020), is to lift the travel ban for citizens of Australia, permanent residents, New Zealanders and certain international students. Though, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg advised that the policy is subject to change because of the changing situation of coronavirus.

The main rationale for this plan is to bring in international students who are stranded overseas. Constant delay in bringing back students will influence universities significantly (even with the latest alterations to support international students). Australia is the fourth largest international education industry and students bring in roughly $39 billion into the Australian economy.

If the government permits the opening of the borders in 2021, it could also indicate that overseas processing of permanent resident applications may commence.

Australians Travelling to New Zealand

Jacinta Arden has declared that New Zealand government has consented to create a trans-Tasman bubble with Australia. Before they can make a final announcement, she has advised that there is still a lot of work to be done.  Currently there no date given for the travel period, but it is expected that we could receive an update by early 2021.

COVID- 19 concessions to remain in place

The concessions that were introduced because of COVID-19 in 2020 are likely to remain in place.

CONCLUSION: Hope that this blog has cleared up all the doubts lingering in your mind. So, go through the above guidelines carefully and make your career decision accordingly.  We wish you all the best in your career!

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