Australia’s permanent migration intake has fallen to its lowest level in at least 10 years as the coronavirus pandemic causes visa processing delays and major disruptions to international travel.
New figures show that the number of permanent visa approvals was 140,366 in the 2019/20 fiscal year to 30 June.
The number of approvals falls well below the government’s planning ceiling of 160,000, and is lower than the 10-year average of 175,000 permanent visas per year.
In comparison, some 160,000 permanent visas were issued in the past financial year before the coronavirus pandemic.
Australian National University demographer Liz Allen said COVID-19 had caused major disruptions to international travel, visa processing delays and a decline in applications.
“It is definitely a marked reduction in the number of permanent migration visas issued,” she told SBS News.
“It is certainly not surprising that we would see the number of people coming to Australia with COVID would decrease.”
The permanent migration intake includes skilled migration pathways, family migration pathways and a small number of special eligible visas.
Abul Rizvi, a former assistant secretary of the Immigration Service, said a large number of permanent visas are issued to people already living in Australia.
According to the latest figures, 90,499 people had approved their visas while in Australia, compared to 84,260 the previous year.
Mr Rizvi said this reflected the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on inbound travelers and the requirements for visa holders to obtain qualifications locally.
“The vast majority of the 2020/21 migration program will be for people already in Australia unless there is a substantial change in the situation with the arrival limit abroad,” he told SBS News.
‘This is a low program’
The new figures showed that 70 percent of permanent trajectories visas were issued through the perceived flow.
Last week, the government announced a new skills list to lure specific temporary migrants to Australia, including nurses, doctors, construction managers and software engineers.
Those falling under the 17 designated categories will be given priority for a travel exemption that allows them to enter Australia, but will still have to complete the 14-day supervised quarantine at their own expense.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the composition of the migration program for the next financial year will be announced in October as part of the budget process.
“The size and composition of the 2020/21 migration and humanitarian programs will be considered in the light of the evolving COVID-19 situation,” he said in a statement.
The coronvirus crisis has sparked a debate about Australia’s migration intake and whether – amid rising unemployment and a crushing recession – it should be changed once borders reopen.
Immigration analyst Anna Boucher of the University of Sydney said the coronavirus crisis would force the government to carefully evaluate its priorities for the future of the migration program.
“They need to balance a mix of social, economic and political considerations, which is always the case – but clearly being reinforced at this point,” she told SBS News.
“The government will have to find a balance between those challenges in the budget.”
The federal government forecasts an 85 percent drop in its net foreign migration intake this financial year.
The agency for the settlement of migrants and refugees AMES Australia said a restored migration program could spur recovery from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that long-term economic success depends on a vibrant migration program, so you’d like to see that, if not next year or the year after,” said CEO Cath Scarth.