The Turnbull government’s tightening migration laws are rooted in an attempt to garner political favour and boost appeal ahead of a looming federal election.
That’s the opinion of migration agent Youssef Haddad.
In the 2017/18 financial year, the government will have issued 165,000 migrant visas – 25,000 fewer than the 190,000 visas planned to be granted since the 2012/13 year, as reported on Wednesday.
Inevitably, 25,000 fewer migrants in Australia will ease pressures in the housing and job markets, Mr Haddad said.
But the clampdown is more about “political gain” than it is “economy-driven and considering Australia’s long-term interests”, Mr Haddad said.
“The statistics clearly tell us that if it wasn’t for our migration intake, we would have a negative birth rate.
“For a country the size of Australia to compete globally, we need our population to increase.
“I’m pretty sure that once the government has a feeling that they’re going to be re-elected, maybe they’ll ease things off again.”
‘Australia less attractive’
Toughening migration laws have reduced visa handouts. These can be seen in changes to how different visas operate.
In March, changes were made to the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme Visa – a visa for migrants who want to work in regional Australia.
This meant visa applicants including many graduates, must have worked in their field for at least three years before submitting an application for permanent residency.
As a result, Australia has become a “less attractive destination” for migrants, regional migration lawyer Mark Lyden said.
“People who have important skills are now looking elsewhere for immigration outcomes.”
And many occupations in which migrants could obtain the Temporary Skill Shortage visa (formerly the 457 visa) no longer provide a path to permanent residency.
This has resulted in a significant reduction in the availability of skilled migrants to fill vacant jobs in Australia, Mr Lyden said.
In April 2017, 16 jobs were removed from the Medium and Long term Strategic Skills List and 200 jobs were removed from the Short term Skilled Occupation List – drastically condensing the jobs that skilled migrants could use to apply for residency.
“It’s only people who accept that they are never going to have permanent residency available to them who are likely to accept the compromise” of temporary placement in Australia,” Mr Lyden said.
‘Processing time has ballooned’
Immigration lawyer Reuben Saul, from Estrin Saul Lawyers, said there’s been an “enormous increase” in visa application processing times which has greatly affected the number of visas granted.
In particular, the processing time for the regional sponsored migration scheme visa has “ballooned” from four to six months in 2016, to 21-23 months this year, Mr Saul said.
“This has had a enormous impact on the amount of visas that are approved or granted in any given year,” he said.
The delays in processing are reflected in “an unprecedented number” of visa applicants in Australia on bridging visas.
In March, 195,000 people were recorded to be on bridging visas in Australia – up from more than 40,000 in 2017, Mr Saul said.
There’s also been a significant rise in the number of regional sponsored visas that have been refused, Mr Saul said.
”Two years ago, the refusal rates were at 13 per cent. At the moment they’re at 50 per cent, so many more visas are being refused.”
While the government is seemingly working on “achieving a better quality of candidates” for jobs, it is yet to effectively deal with a “significant discernible amount of rorting in the system”, immigration lawyer Mr Lyden said.
For example, in north-western NSW there are “lots and lots of people” working illegally – people on tourist visas working in the agricultural industry, even in local Chinese restaurants, he explained.
“We are selling access to people who shouldn’t be here by not spending money and resources, time and effort on fine-tuning these schemes to ensure only the best people come here.
“I know the government says that’s what it’s doing but as a legal practitioner who works in the area, I know that it isn’t.”
The Department of Home Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.