2012-13 Budget Announcement - Immigration Changes

By Mark Webster
11 May 2012

A number of changes to Australian immigration arrangements have been announced as part of the 2012-13 Federal Budget.

The main changes which have been announced are:

  1. 5,000 additional places for the 2012-13 Migration Program - both skilled and family sponsored visa numbers have increased
  2. Changes to visa health criteria making it easier for people with medical conditions to qualify
  3. Increases to Visa Application Fees - fees for visa evidencing and including additional family members to apply from 1 July 2012
  4. New Penalties for employing people in breach of visa conditions
  5. Expansion of the Pacific Seasonal Worker Program
Details of the changes are below:

2012-13 Migration Program Increases

The overall numbers for the 2012-13 Migration program have been announced. The overall program will be 190,000 which is an increase of 5,000 places from 2011-12.

There will be 129,250 places in the skilled stream, an increase of 3,400. The reasoning for the increase is that there is ongoing strong demand for skilled labour in parts of the Australian community.

The family stream will increase from 58,600 places to 60,185 places - an increase of 1,585 places. It is good to see the family migration program being acknowledged as being an important factor in attracting and retaining skilled migrants. People applying for family sponsored visas, such as partner visas, should hopefully experience faster processing of their applications going forward.

Changes to Visa Health criteria

The health criteria for visa applications will be changed from 1 July 2012.

A visa application can be refused if the estimated costs of treating a pre-existing health condition exceed a "Significant Cost Threshold".

The current threshold figure is $21,000, but this will be raised to $35,000 from 1 July 2012. This is a large percentage increase and may make it possible for a significant number of applicants to qualify for visas even though they have a medical condition.

Visa Fee Increases

Department of Immigration charges will be increased in a number of areas, including:
  • Charging for putting a visa label into a passport
  • Charging for each additional visa applicant - under the current system, family members of the main applicant can be included in a visa application without an additional fee.
These changes are likely to be introduced from 1 July 2012

New Employer Penalties

New penalties will be introduced for employers who engage workers in breach of their visa conditions. Currently, criminal penalties apply for employers in these circumstances. However, these sanctions have proven very difficult to apply, with only a handful of successful prosecutions.

New penalties will be introduced which operate on a "strict liability" basis. Employers might be issued with a range of sanctions from warning and infringement notices, financial penalties, civil penalties and criminal prosecution for the most serious breaches.

As the penalties operate on a strict liability basis, the Department of Immigration will not need to prove that the employer intended to breach the law.

In addition, the definition of "work" will be expanded for the purpose of applying the penalties meaning that penalties could be imposed on companies referring people for employment and for companies using contractors.

As a result, penalties will be much easier for the Department of Immigration to impose on employers.

We expect that the new penalties will be introduced towards the end of 2012.

Expansion of the Pacific Seasonal Worker Program

The Pacific Seasonal Worker Program is a program whereby workers from Pacific Island countries can travel to Australia on special program visas to work in Australia in the horticultural industry.

This program will be expanded to 12,000 places over the next four years. Use of the program by the agricultural, fisheries and tourism industries will also be possible for the first time. Feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss how these changes will affect you.

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