In-Depth: How Will Migration Look After Covid-19?

Overseas migration will fall by 85 per cent during the next financial year, according to Treasury estimates.

There’s not a single industry or area of life that Covid-19 hasn’t touched. It will certainly be some time before any semblance of normality returns.

But it will, eventually.

There’s no denying that Australia has done a quite remarkable job of flattening the Covid-19 infection curve through a mix of social distancing and lockdown measures. It’s one of the safest places to be right now.

The Australian migration system will – and must – continue to function.

Our citizens and residents will still fall in love with overseas nationals; Australia’s world-class universities will continue to attract international students; aged parents still want to reunite with their children and grandchildren; Australian employers will always look to highly skilled migrants to fill certain specialised roles.

In 2018-19, Australia welcomed over 160,000 permanent residents and citizenship was conferred on a further 127,625 people. On top of this, almost nine million temporary visas were granted, including student visas, working holiday visas and temporary work visas.

Yes, migration to Australia is likely to fall this year, but this also has a lot to do with the country’s borders being closed to most non-residents. It’s hard for people to migrate here when they can’t get in.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has suggested that migration numbers won’t be reduced after the crisis is over.

Once restrictions ease on air travel – whether that’s through the introduction of a vaccine, increased testing, or even immunity passports – migration will most certainly increase. Will we see numbers as high as 2018-19? Perhaps not initially, but they will creep back up.

Education is Australia’s third-largest export industry, worth approximately $32.4 billion to the economy. The country cannot turn its back on international students and close the door.

Man in isolation due to Covid, looking out the window

Economic benefits of migration

Speaking to SBS News this week, University of Sydney Associate Professor Anna Boucher said people are “reimagining a new Australia” as a result of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

She suggested that migrants with specialist skills developed overseas, and those willing to work in “areas Australians don’t want to work” will play a crucial role in helping to rebuild the country in the years ahead.

“Migrants could actually be more important in the post COVID-19 future, they already have been becoming important and they could become even more important,” she said.

Associate Professor Boucher pointed out that migrants are generally “net contributors”.

“Those migrants work, they pay tax, most of them are not a drain on the welfare or health system. They are net contributors, not net takers,” she added.

Here at True Blue Migration Services, we fully understand the role migrants play in boosting Australian businesses and the positive knock-on effects this can have for Australian citizens and permanent residents.

Joy Hay, Director of True Blue Migration Services, explains: “Lots of employers rely on skilled workers from overseas. For many of them, sponsoring migrants in key positions – when they can’t recruit locally because of skill shortages – means they can grow their businesses and service their customers, which in turn leads to more local employment.”

According to the Migration Council of Australia, the country’s population is predicted to it 38 million by 2050, with migration contributing $1.6 trillion to Australia’s GDP.

Whilst there’s no doubt the current crisis will impact these projections, it’s clear that migration can have a positive impact on the economy and drive employment growth.

Dollar sign and coronavirus

Are visas still being processed?

When you think about migration, you probably conjure images of packed airport arrivals halls and passports being stamped. If there are no flights coming in, there’ll be no visa applications, right? Wrong.

Many visa applicants are already based in Australia; they’re moving from one visa to another or transitioning from temporary residency to permanent residency. For example, if you’re applying for an onshore partner visa, you’ll go through two stages. First, you’ll apply for an 820 visa which enables you to live and work temporarily in Australia. Two years later, if you’re still in a genuine and ongoing relationship, you’ll be eligible for the 801 permanent residency visa. But you won’t have to leave Australia to apply for the second stage.

Many skilled workers transition from 457 and 482 visas to the employer-sponsored 186 visa, which offers Australian permanent residency. Similarly, lots of student visa holders progress to graduate visas and employer-sponsorship.

Visas are still being processed, but the pandemic will of course have an impact on processing times. The Department of Home Affairs is responsible for the Australian Border Force and they’ve been having a busy time of it recently! The Department must also keep its own employees safe by setting employees up to work from home and implementing social distancing measures for essential office-based staff, and that can impact productivity.

It’s likely the Department of Home Affairs will make onshore visa processing a priority until the country’s borders reopen, although the processing of some offshore visas will need to continue. At this point, though, it makes little sense for Case Officers to grant visas which have short validity periods (like the prospective marriage visa) and need to be activated when we don’t yet have a timeframe for the reopening of Australia’s international border.

Should offshore applications be delayed?

No, don’t delay. Join the queue as soon as you can. Even if your visa isn’t picked up by a Case Officer for a while, you’ll be waiting in line.

It is still worthwhile lodging applications for offshore visas with lengthy processing times, such as parent visas, partner visas and skilled independent visas. By the time things begin to return to normal, your visa will hopefully have progressed in the queue.

Empty airport departures lounge and departures sign

Is now a good time to make an onshore application?

If you’re a temporary visa holder in Australia and want to apply for a partner visa, it’s a great time to go ahead with that. You’ll move to a bridging visa when your current visa expires and you can work with no restrictions whilst you wait. With fewer offshore applications, you might even find that your application is processed faster than usual.

Another great visa to apply for right now is the 189 New Zealand stream visa. This is a permanent residency visa for eligible New Zealanders living in Australia. Although New Zealanders can remain in Australia indefinitely, they do not enjoy the same rights as permanent residents and citizens when it comes to social welfare entitlements and subsidised study.

If it has done anything, the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of applying for permanent residency as soon as you’re eligible. Whilst citizens and residents are entitled to Government support in the form of JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments, temporary residents are not.

There is a deep divide between permanent residents and temporary residents when it comes to rights and entitlements. Our advice to everyone is this: make that PR application as soon as you can. Yes, it’s expensive and requires some effort, but the benefits are plain to see. We’ve recently introduced even more flexible split-fee payment options and we offer no visa, no fee guarantees on many visa types.

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