Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, explains the changes to Australia’s skilled migration sector.
Australia has a proud history of skilled migration. Skilled migration is essential to Australia as it enables us to attract people with the best possible mix of skills and attributes to contribute to our economy.
Australia is an immigration success story. More than a quarter of Australia’s population was born overseas and our multicultural workforce provides us with a comparative advantage in the modern global economy.
Of course, Chinese migrants play a significant part in migration to Australia and have been a part of Australian society since the early days of settlement. In 1861, Chinese migrants in Australia made up 3.4 percent of the total Australian population.
Today, more than 866,000 Australians identify themselves as being of Chinese ancestry and Mandarin is now the most common language spoken in Australia after English.
China has been a leading source country of skilled migrants to Australia for the past decade. This is a testament to the close economic and people-to-people ties between our countries. In 2011-12, more than 25,000 Chinese nationals were granted a permanent visa, or 14 percent of all permanent visas. More than 60 percent of these Chinese migrants were in the skilled migration program.
Given the extent of commercial contact between our countries, it is not surprising that China is also the largest source of business visitors to Australia, with the 78,000 visas granted in 2011-12 accounting for 17 percent of the global total. China is a major source of temporary skilled worker visas, with almost 5,000 visas granted to Chinese nationals in 2011 12, not to mention the 71,000 Chinese students in Australia at the end of June 2012.
China is our fastest growing overseas tourism market. The number of visitors from China in 2011-12 increased by 16 percent compared to the previous year, driven by the growing middle class in China.
It is clear that there is great interest from Chinese people in coming to Australia, whether it be as a tourist, a student, or skilled migrant. Australia very much welcomes this. Not only do Chinese migrants make a substantial economic contribution to Australia and deliver high-value skills to the Australian economy, but they also build the people-to-people links that deepen the cultural, trade and diplomatic ties between our countries. This is a positive thing for Australia.
The Australian Government’s skilled migration program is set to target 129,250 permanent places in 2012-13. This accounts for 68 percent of our overall migration program, with the remaining 60,185 places allocated to permanent migration for family members of Australian citizens or permanent residents. In addition, Australia runs a permanent humanitarian program which has 20,000 places in 2012-13.
There are also options for temporary migrants with the subclass 457 program, an uncapped, labour market demand-driven temporary skilled visa program. This employer sponsored visa category helps to address immediate labour market demand for skills that can’t be met locally.
While Australia has a successful and responsive migration program, the Government is always looking at ways to improve it in order to attract the best and brightest people to Australia.
Recently, I announced significant reforms to encourage successful investors and entrepreneurs to migrate to Australia. I hope that Chinese businesspeople will look at these new visa options and seriously consider the business opportunities open to them in Australia.
Australia wants investors who can bring capital and expertise to our nation. Australia is an excellent place to invest, due to our stable government, transparent regulation and favourable business environment. It makes sense to augment and diversify our existing pool of business expertise through migration in order to make Australia more internationally competitive. It will also promote better links between Australia and international markets, such as China.
Significant Investor Visa
The new Significant Investor visa targets migrants who have a demonstrated history of business success and could make a capital investment of at least A$5 million into the Australian economy for four years or more. The investment can be in state or territory bonds, Australian Security Investment Commission regulated managed funds or in direct investment in Australian companies. It will be implemented on November 24, 2012 and potential applicants need to be nominated by a state or territory government.
In recognition of the contribution of high net worth individuals to our nation, there will be some concessions on visa requirements, such as reduced residence requirements and no points test to be met.
Business Innovation and Investment Program
The Government has also transformed the Business Skills visa program into the new Business Innovation and Investment Program, in recognition of Australia’s changing business environment.
This is a selective program with 7,400 places in 2012-13, up 200 places on the previous year. We have introduced a points test to help differentiate between visa applicants, with points recognising English language ability, assets, qualifications and business experience.
The Government will grant access to flexibility provisions to achieve permanent residence and encourage innovative business. We have a Hong Kong office dedicated to supporting the program and have reduced the number of visas from 13 to three, making it easier for high-calibre investors and entrepreneurs to apply to migrate to Australia.
The three visa subclasses each have two streams. The Business Talent (Permanent) (subclass 132) visa streams are a significant business history stream and a venture capital entrepreneur stream, while the Business Innovation and Investment (Provisional) (subclass 188) and the Business Innovation and Investment (Permanent) (subclass 888) visa streams are a business innovation stream and an investor stream.
Business innovation stream applicants must have net business and personal assets of A$800,000, and investor stream applicants must have net business and personal assets of $A2.25 million. Business innovation stream applicants must also meet the business turnover requirement of A$500,000. There is no business turnover requirement for investor stream applicants.
It should be noted that there is no English language threshold requirement for applicants and their family members under the Business Innovation and Investment visa or the Significant Investor visa, meaning potential investors won’t miss out on the basis of their language skills.
The Government has also implemented a range of other reforms to align skilled migration to Australia’s economic needs and complement the Government’s efforts to support the development of our domestic workforce.
These reforms include SkillSelect, a new online system that allows more efficient visa processing and easier management of skilled migrant selection. People wishing to migrate to Australia can now make an expression of interest online with SkillSelect. Employers, state and territory governments or the Commonwealth can then select from the pool of potential migrants to sponsor or invite those that best suit Australia’s needs. SkillSelect provides for more efficient visa processing and a more responsive skilled migration program.
Anyone wishing to migrate to Australia on the basis of their skills should visit www.skillselect.gov.au for more information about SkillSelect and links to detailed requirements for all skilled migration visas to Australia. Interested migrants should then submit an Expression of Interest via SkillSelect to be invited to lodge a visa application.
Another key policy reform element is the capacity to develop tailored arrangements, such as labour agreements, to provide access to overseas workers where Australians are not available to fill the positions and the mainstream programs are unsuitable. Enterprise migration agreements, designed to help with the construction phase of massive resource projects, are an example of flexible policy making to deliver pragmatic migration solutions that help support economic growth.
The Government recognizes that human capital is one of Australia’s greatest assets. With the Government’s recent targeted reforms, our visa system is well prepared to support further growth in the relationship between Australia and China. ■