Newly published immigration data has revealed that Australia’s annual intake of permanent migrants has fallen to its lowest level since 2007, representing a decline of approximately 20,000 when compared to the same period last year.
Although the annual permanent intake cap remained at 190,000 during the previous financial year, increasing visa application scrutiny—which led to a reduction of 12,000 skilled 8,000 family visas—caused the actual intake to fall to 163,000.
According to the data the skilled visa stream underwent a drop from 12,468 places to just 111,099, while the family stream fell—by almost 15 per cent—to 47,732 places.
The Department of Home Affairs had already been anticipating a decline of this size, with an official spokesperson previously telling a Senate Inquiry that there has been a substantial reduction in the annual migration intake due to increased vetting scrutiny and advances in database technology.
However, the news was met with shock and outrage from Australia’s business community, with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry calling the decline in migration levels a national “crisis”, particularly for regional employers.
The Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, has publicly defended the decline in numbers, saying that “we’re not going to allow people in where there’s a fraudulent application, where there’s dodgy information being provided”.
“If you are bringing people in, like Labor did, that don’t have the proper qualifications, that don’t have the documentation that satisfies the examiners within my department, if they’re worried about fraudulent documentation, those outcomes are not going to be productive for the economy.”
“What these figures show is that we have also strengthened Australia’s permanent visa program by ending Labor’s slavish drive for quantity and replacing it with a sharper focus on integrity and quality.”
“I want the migration program to work for Australians, not just the migrants themselves. On my watch, we will continue to seek out those migrants who will make the best contribution to our country, including in our regions,” Dutton said.
According to Dutton the decline can be attributed to the continued ramping up of data-matching technology. This has allowed the Department to cross reference visa applications with information provided by other government agencies, ostensibly leading to significantly improved vetting procedures, which are responsible for the overall decline in visa numbers.
However, a former deputy secretary for the Department of Immigration, Abul Rizvi—who oversaw Australia’s visa program from the 1990s to 2007—has challenged Dutton’s claims, arguing that it is “rubbish” to suggest that the previous vetting procedures were not robust enough during periods when the annual intake was higher.
“There is no reason that the program can’t be delivered at that level,” Rizvi said.
“I ran the migration program for over 12 years, and it was always possible to deliver the program … with integrity, because we were able to identify those where there were fraudulent documents.”
“That’s always been the case, and they were always able to be weeded out,” he said
A Senior Migration Agent from Absolute Immigration, Majlinda Lulo, said that the newly published data shows that Australia’s immigration system is becoming stricter and increasingly difficult to navigate.
“The recent changes in Departmental processing procedures have brought on a higher rate of refusal for applications that would have been easily approved six months ago,” Lulo said.
“Case officers appear to be increasingly issuing negative decisions without a clarification request for further supporting documents.”
“It is more important than ever for businesses to work with us, ensuring that all applications are as clear and complete as possible to avoid the serious ramifications that a refusal would no doubt bring,” she said.
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