Author; Paul Karp
A special pathway for New Zealand citizens to apply for skilled migrant visas will shrink Australia’s immigration intake by allowing New Zealanders already resident in Australia to apply to remain permanently as migrants.
Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton have been caught at odds this week about whether the home affairs minister canvassed reducing the permanent migration intake by 20,000 from the current limit of 190,000.
While the Turnbull government resolved to keep the cap at 190,000, a number of measures including the New Zealand pathway and an increase in support requirements making it harder for poorer migrant families to financially back their relatives in visa applications have contributed to a reduction in numbers.
The skilled independent subclass 189 visa, which was introduced in July 2017, is given to New Zealanders who have been Australian residents for five years and provides a pathway to citizenship after 12 months.
New figures from the home affairs department provided to the ABC reveal that 1,512 of the visas had been issued by the end of February, with 7,500 applications still being processed.
New Zealand citizens can now visit, study, stay and work in Australia on temporary – but indefinite – subclass 444 visas.
If Australia maintains the ceiling of 44,000 people on skilled independent visas each year, the addition of New Zealanders already resident in Australia will effectively crowd out applicants from other source countries .
Applicants for skilled independent visas from other countries are assessed using a points-based system, with India (14,484), China (6,071) and the UK (3,462) the biggest source of migrants on these visas in 2016-17.
The ABC has reported that between 60,000 and 80,000 New Zealanders are eligible for the new visa. Wayne Parcell, an immigration partner at EY, reportedly said that Australia could expect about 10,000 applications this year.
The Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim told Guardian Australia people should be “deeply concerned” by Dutton’s agenda.
“[Dutton] is seeking to cut immigration by stealth and to have more English-speaking, white and wealthy people migrate to Australia,” he said.
“This has been made clear through his changes to visas for New Zealanders, higher costs for family reunions, his ‘special attention’ for white South Africans as well as his attempts to introduce high-level English tests for potential citizens.”
Australia is on track for an intake of between 160,000 and 170,000 people in 2017-18, with immigration levels dropping to rates last seen in 2010 without any formal reduction in the actual limit.
Migration figures have become highly politicised in the Coalition, with the former prime minister Tony Abbott campaigning for a cut in migration.
In February Dutton publicly canvassed a cut but the treasurer, Scott Morrison, rejected Abbott’s proposal, warning that to slash migration by 80,000 people would cost the budget $4bn to $5bn over four years.
On Tuesday a report in the Australian triggered a spat in the government by stating the home affairs minister had informally suggested a cut of 20,000 but had been shut down by Morrison and Turnbull.
Some government figures believe the story was connected to leadership positioning by Dutton but others believe it is connected to a broader fight within the government about the policy direction required to turn around the government’s stubbornly negative poll trend– or to save the furniture.
On Friday the energy and environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, openly laughed at Abbott’s contributions on the migration debate in a segment on Channel Nine’s Today program.
Asked why he was laughing, Frydenberg replied: “It is only Tony Abbott. He is always going to cut across what the prime minister has been [saying] lately.”
The finance minister, Mathias Cormann, told Sky News on Friday the government would not be changing the 190,000 cap on net permanent migration.
“When it comes to permanent migration we’ve always said this is an upper limit [not a target],” he said.
Cormann said the biggest categories of temporary visitors to Australia were “New Zealanders, followed by students, followed by tourists”.