This financial year, Australia planned to take 190,000 migrants but will possibly end up with just 165,000- the lowest level in seven years. Since 2012-13 the migration program has been at the same level of 190,000 but dropped to 183,000 last financial year and will fall further again this year, led by reductions in the number of skilled and sponsored working visas.
Up to 30 April 2018, the Australian government had granted 138,086 permanent visas divided broadly into two-thirds skilled, and one-third family. These figures are independent of humanitarian visas, which are not included in the migration program numbers. By the end of the full year ending 30 June, it appears likely about 165,000 migration visas will be granted.
Comparing the first six months of last financial year with the first six months of the present year, there have been substantial falls across most visa categories, but most among skilled independent and employer-sponsored work visas. This fall has been attributed to changes to the 457 visa regime. The number of employer-sponsored visas fell from 22,843 to 16,047, while skilled independent visas officially fell from 24,289 to 20,989.
Meanwhile, there has been a deal struck between Canberra and Wellington that now enables some New Zealanders who have lived and worked in Australia for five years to apply for permanent residency, and a pathway to citizenship. These are likely to displace thousands of other skilled migrants who might otherwise have been granted a permanent visa in the migration intake.
While the planned migration program figure for the 2018-19 financial year is again 190,000, that figure is being questioned as debate has restarted about the size and shape of Australia’s migration program and future population. A change has taken place within government several years ago, to ensure that the permanent program figures were managed as a ceiling, rather than a target to be achieved. Migration adds an estimated 1% to Australia’s gross domestic product every year and issues have been raised around traffic gridlocks on choked roads, overpopulated schools, hospitals and other infrastructure, and increasing house prices that are politically sensitive for the government.
Since 1998 the country of origin for most migrants to Australia has shifted from places like the UK and South Africa, to China and India. For the past decade or so, migration has been a larger driver of population increase than babies being born in Australia— with migration now accounting for about 60% of Australia’s population increase, the Government may have good reason for installing the curbs in migrant numbers.