Immigration and Migration planning is an incredibly important component of Australia's economy and post COVID-19 recovery plan. Australia's Migration Program has always focused on attracting skilled migrants and business investments in the country. 

The release of the 2020/2021 Federal Budget has confirmed Australia's objectives to prioritise the attraction of the "best and brightest migrants from around the world"  through the Global Talent Independent program. It also aims to increase business investments through the Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP). This article will outline the key changes from the budget to Australia's migration.

Population Changes

The 2020/2021 Migration Program predicts net overseas migration will be 71,200 less than the 154,000 persons in 2019-20. But, it will likely gradually increase to around 201,000 in 2023-24.

This new fiscal year will represent the lowest population growth (in over 100 years). Unfortunately, this is unsurprising considering Australia's travel restrictions and border closures in place in response to the pandemic. The toll the international health crisis has caused to the Australian Migration Program is impactful and devastating. It has resulted in: 

  • the demise of our tourism and travel industry;
  • reduction of migrants to Australia; 
  • disruptions to Australian business (in respect to sponsoring offshore applicants); and 
  • thousands of temporary visa holders stranded offshore and unable to return.

However, the silver lining is that with the steady recovery of Australia's economy, borders will start to re-open and migration numbers increase.

Migration Program Planning Levels 2020-21

The current Migration Program Planning level will remain at 160,000 for the 2020-21 program year. However, the distribution of places will change with an increase from 47,732 to 77,300 for Family stream places for this program year only.

The breakdown of numbers are as follows:

Skilled Stream


Family Stream


Employer Sponsored (subclass 482 and 186)




Skilled Independent

(subclass 189)




Regional (subclass 494)


Other Family


State/Territory Nominated (subclass 190 and 491)


Family Total


Business Innovation & Investment program



Global Talent



Distinguished Talent



Skill Total



Skilled Stream

Employer Sponsored, Global Talent, Business Innovation and Investment Program visas will be prioritised within the Skilled Stream.


The Government is increasing places in this program to 13,500. This is a significant increase from last year's migration planning of 6862 and actual outcome of 4420.

The Government will introduce changes to improve the quality of investments and applicants. The program will focus on higher-value investors, business owners and entrepreneurs and improve the economic outcomes of the BIIP. 

Visa application charges for BIIP visas will also be increased by an additional 11.3% (above regular CPI indexation) on 1 July 2021.

Global Talent

Places in the GTI program will be tripled to 15,000. The Global Talent category, which was launched on 4 November 2019, delivered 4,109 places against a planning level of 5,000 places in the 2019/2020 year.

A Global Business and Talent Attraction Task Force will be established to attract international businesses and exceptional talent to Australia. It will aim to support the post- COVID recovery and boost local jobs. 

Family Stream

Partner Visas 

72,300 of the 77,300 places in the family stream will be allocated to partner applicants. However, it is suspected that this increase is to deal with the backlog of partner visa applications lodged in previous years and won't account for new partner visa applications. Priority will be given to partner visa applicants who are onshore.

Significant amendments will follow that will impact the eligibility criteria for the partner visa. Mandatory family sponsorship provisions will be implemented, requiring character checks and sharing of personal information with the applicant, and enforceable sponsorship obligations. This means that an applicant's Australian spouse or de facto partner must be approved before they can lodge a partner visa application. 

Another additional requirement will be the introduction of English language competency for Partner visa applicants AND the sponsor.

Permanent Migration for New Zealanders

Eligibility for the Pathway to the Skilled Independent Subclass 189 (New Zealand Stream) will be extended include Special Category (subclass 444) visa holders. These visa holders must have a taxable income at or above the Temporary Skilled Migrant Income Threshold (TSMIT – currently at $53,900) for at least three of the last five income years, including the most recent financial year.

Visa Refunds and Waivers

Prospective marriage visa (PMV) holders will be able to access a VAC refund. This is in line with information that the Department is not extending the entry date for PMV holders and moving to cancel the visas of those offshore. Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Programme visa holders will be able to access a VAC refund.

Temporary skilled workers and visitor visa holders will be eligible to have the VAC for a subsequent visa application waived, to allow them to return to Australia once travel restrictions are lifted.

Working holidaymakers will be eligible to have the VAC for a subsequent visa application waived. This will allow them to return to Australia once travel restrictions are lifted, or they are otherwise able to access a VAC refund.

VAC refunds and waivers will be available to current visa holders who are unable to travel until the border re-opens.

Humanitarian Stream

The Humanitarian Program ceiling will be set at 13,750 places. This will include a flexible mix of places between offshore and onshore categories in response to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The Immigration Assessment Authority will receive funding of $7.6 million to enable the fast-tracking of reviewable decisions for those who entered Australia as an unauthorised maritime arrival on or after 13 August 2012 but before 1 January 2014.

The Government will provide $55.6 million dollars at North West Point on Christmas Island to accommodate unlawful non-citizens including those released from prisons, but unable to be deported due to COVID-19 international border restrictions.

Federal Law Circuit Court

Funding of $35.7 million over four years from 2020-21 will be provided to the Federal Circuit Court (FCC) for additional resources and judges will be provided to expedite the resolution of migration matters.

An increase in filing fees for migration litigants will be used to partially offset the cost of this measure.

National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020-25

$10.6 million will be provided over five years from 2020-21 for the provision of grants to deliver community-based projects to prevent modern slavery.

Key Takeaways

The focus of Australia's Migration Program remains consistent with its 2019/2020 planning. However, the new fiscal year will see a significant decrease in migration numbers due to the pandemic and Australia's post-COVID-19 recovery plan. Priority will be given to employer-sponsored visas, global talent visas and business innovation and investment visas.

The Australian Government will invest a substantial amount to sourcing and attracting talent across the Global Talent Program and BIIP. Given the performance of last year's migration outcome in both these programs (less than 5000 in each category), it will be interesting to see if migration numbers will increase this fiscal year.

The Partner visa will undergo a major overhaul with the processing of historical applications, the introduction of sponsorship requirements and pre-approval and English language competency requirements. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.