Australia’s immigration framework is undergoing significant changes following a thorough evaluation spanning 186 pages, which concluded that the current system is inadequate and exposes temporary laborers to exploitation. Responding to this assessment, Clare O’Neil, the Minister of Home Affairs, issued two statements. Complementary to these statements were additional revelations in the federal budget’s release on May 9. This budget earmarked funds to expedite visa processing and also outlined an increment in application fees. Moreover, a noteworthy announcement in the wake of this evaluation was the expansion of Australia’s reciprocal working holiday initiative with the United Kingdom.

As we venture into the 2023–2024 period, several pivotal adjustments to visa policies have been implemented:

  1. Pathway to Citizenship for New Zealanders: New Zealand citizens residing in Australia for a duration of four years or longer are now eligible to directly apply for Australian citizenship from July 1, 2023. This means they need not wait to obtain a permanent visa beforehand. The policy affects New Zealanders who entered Australia after February 26, 2001, and possess a Special Category (subclass 444) visa. Additionally, those with long-term residency can have their permanent residence duration retroactively attributed. It’s crucial to note that the New Zealand stream of the Skilled Independent (subclass 189) visa ceased accepting new applications and will be permanently closed by July 1.
  2. Introduction of Pacific Engagement Visa: A novel visa category, the Pacific Engagement visa (PEV), has been introduced to accommodate 3,000 skilled immigrants from the Pacific region and Timor Leste. Annually, spots for this visa will be allocated through a ballot system. Recipients of this visa will be eligible to apply for permanent residency in Australia. Applications for the PEV can be submitted online starting from July.
  3. Alterations in Student Visa Regulations: Student visa work limitations underwent progressive relaxation during the COVID-19 pandemic and were entirely removed in January of the previous year to alleviate labor shortages. Consequently, holders of primary and secondary student visas could work beyond the usual limit of 40 hours every two weeks. However, beginning July 1, the permissible work duration for student visa holders will increase to 48 hours over the same period. The federal budget, presented by Treasurer Jim Chalmers, confirmed this modification and also specified that international students employed in elderly care will be exempt from this cap until December 31, 2023.Additionally, holders of subclass 485 Temporary Graduate visas will be eligible for extended stays in Australia, allowing four years for bachelor’s degree graduates (up from two years), five years for master’s degree graduates (up from three), and six years for those with a master’s degree (up from four).
  4. Revisions to Australia-UK Working Holiday Program: With the enactment of the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA) on May 31, adjustments to the Australia-UK working holiday scheme were pronounced. Notably, the maximum age for Australians participating in the UK’s Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS) increased from 30 to 35 years, effective January 31, 2024. Moreover, Australians between the ages of 18 and 35 under the YMS can now extend their working holiday duration from two to three years. Simultaneously, the age limit for UK citizens applying for working holidays in Australia also elevated to 35 as of July 1, 2023.
  5. Modifications for Working Holiday Makers (WHMs): Effective July 1, a regulation allowing Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) to continue working with the same employer for more than six months without prior authorization was discontinued. This measure, initially put in place to address labor shortages during the pandemic, was temporarily lifted in January 2022. Importantly, the six-month limitation will not apply to work performed prior to July 1. As a result, WHMs can extend their employment with a single employer by an additional six months, regardless of when they started working before July 1.

In essence, the landscape of Australia’s immigration and visa policies has rapidly evolved to address key concerns, ensure fairness, and respond to economic dynamics in the current climate.

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