Australia | Home Affairs Announces Significant Immigration Reform Plans

On Wednesday, February 22, the Hon Clare O’Neil MP, Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs, announced significant immigration reform plans to address the labor and skill shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are no immediate actions for employers or foreign nationals in Australia now.

Looking Ahead: Minister O’Neil and the Migration Review Team will prepare a draft architecture for a new Australian migration system to be released in April. The upcoming migration system will be based on the Migration Review Team’s work to identify areas for improvement and solutions. In her remarks, she shared their learnings and the early next steps.

By the Numbers

Since 2005, the number of net skilled permanent migrants coming to Australia each year has stayed roughly the same, approximately 30,000 people. However, in the same time, the number of temporary migrants has nearly doubled, from 1 million to 1.9 million.

  • Of the 1.9 million temporary migrants, 6% are on skilled visas.
  • Temporary visa holders cannot invest in their education or get a loan to start a business, which may limit their interest in permanently staying in Australia.
Areas for Improvement

Missed Opportunities:

  • The temporary program is the biggest feeder into the permanent program; 65% of permanent slots are filled by people already in Australia on temporary visas.
  • Opportunities to improve the international student retention rate for their postgraduation career.
  • Opportunities to engage in employment with the partners and spouses of skilled visa holders.


Outdated Systems:

  • The process for highly skilled migrants to come to Australia can be complex, costly, long, and, therefore, unattractive.
  • The labor marketing testing process is not achieving what it is designed to do and, in some cases, is little more than a box-ticking exercise.
  • The existing points system, critical in determining which migrants qualify to come to Australia, doesn’t properly differentiate based on age, income, or skills.
  • The occupation lists are outdated based on current workforce needs.
  • The reliance on employer sponsorship for temporary visas can result in exploitative labor practices for the migrant worker.

Minister O’Neil referred to migration as “Australia’s special sauce” and noted that “everything big and important we have achieved, for most of the last 100 years, has occurred, in part, because we’ve invited people from around the world to come and help us with our national endeavours.”

Recent improvements include:
  • They reduced the visa backlog from a million unprocessed visas to nearly half a million.
  • Established Jobs and Skills Australia, a new part of government that will provide expert, evidence-based advice on skills shortages, vacancies, and the overall state of the labor market.
Proposed Structural Reform
  1. Articulate a clear definition of why the migration system exists and what problems it solves. Then, the government can design a program where the structure, rules, and administration meet those objectives. The Migration Review is finalizing the early part of this work.
  2. Redesign the fundamental structure of the migration system and rebalance the temporary and permanent programs to get the right people to Australia when needed.
  3. Remove policies that create ‘permanently temporary’ conditions.
  4. Sharpen the focus on skills, strategically thinking about who the country needs, where they will come from, and what a streamlined process could be that won’t dissuade them.
  5. Improve the speed and ease with which migrants’ existing skills are recognized and increase support to translate the skills of secondary applicants and others into the labor market.
  6. Better coordinate and integrate the needs of the labor market, training, and education system and the migration system, giving Jobs & Skills Australia a formal role in the migration system for the first time.
  7. Design out migrant worker exploitation wherever possible.
  8. Fix the system’s administration, simplify the rules, and reduce complexity.


Erickson Immigration Group will continue monitoring developments and sharing updates as more news is available. Please contact your employer or EIG attorney if you have questions about anything we’re reporting above or case-specific questions. RMA: 0101248