Immigration and Border Protection: Regional Australia—Driving Our Economy 2017–18

The Immigration and Border Protection portfolio is committed to supporting rural and regional communities in Australia. A number of the portfolio’s programs specifically target regional Australia and encourage migrants to settle in regional areas.

The permanent annual Migration Programme supports regional Australia to respond to unique economic and labour market conditions by helping to fill the need for skills in a range of regions and sectors.

The Seasonal Worker Programme offers seasonal labour to employers in agricultural and accommodation industries who cannot meet their seasonal labour needs with local jobseekers. This program is administered by the Department of Employment, supported by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The Working Holiday Maker Programme has a special focus on helping employers in regional Australia to meet short-term employment needs. Working Holiday Makers who work in regional areas can access additional Working Holiday Visas and extended stays.

The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa encourages people granted temporary protection visas to work or study in a designated regional area. The purpose of the visa is to provide temporary protection while encouraging enterprise through earning and learning and strengthening regional Australia.

Australia’s investment and business visa programs encourage business migrants and retirees to either invest or to set up businesses in regional or rural areas of Australia and enables States and Territories to nominate the type of business people and investors they need for the economic development of their regions.

In September 2015, the Australian Government committed to resettling an additional 12,000 people displaced by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, with a focus on vulnerable people and persecuted minorities. All 12,000 additional humanitarian visas have now been granted. A proportion of Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian entrants have resettled in regional areas.

These programs have significant positive impacts on regional communities by encouraging more people to move to, work in and visit regional areas, supporting jobs and growth in regional economies.

New Initiatives

Community Support Programme

The Community Support Programme (CSP) provides new pathways for refugees to resettle in Australia. 1,000 places will be available within the planned Humanitarian Programme.

The CSP will enable businesses, community groups, families and individuals to support the settlement of humanitarian entrants into their community. Refugee proposers under the CSP will provide all support, including employment, for the first 12 months in Australia.

The CSP provides an opportunity for refugees with skills or relevant experience to be welcomed into a regional community. Regional communities have the opportunity to harness new skills and experience from humanitarian entrants. The CSP will enhance the cultural diversity of regional areas.

Regional resettlement of refugees can occur with the support and involvement of local and State governments, service providers and the local community.

Employer Sponsored Skilled Migration Reforms

On 18 April 2017 the Prime Minister of Australia and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection announced that the Australian Government will abolish the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457) (457 visa) and replace it with a new Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa in March 2018.

The new TSS will better target genuine skills shortages, including in regional Australia, and help train Australians to fill the skills gaps in the workforce. Under these reforms, employers in regional Australia will be able to sponsor shorter term skilled workers in a broader range of occupations than employers in non-regional areas. Twenty–four occupations eligible for 457 visas and the visas under the new Temporary Work and Skill programs can only be accessed in regional Australia (e.g. occupations relating to farming and agriculture). 

Complementary reforms to Australia’s permanent employer sponsored skilled migration programs were also subsequently announced. Existing permanent visa concessions for regional Australia, such as waiving the nomination fee and providing age exemptions for certain occupations, will be retained.

Implementation of these reforms will be completed by March 2018.

Current Initiatives

Australian Trusted Trader Programme

The Australian Trusted Trader Programme (ATT) will deliver an ongoing positive impact on regional Australia. ATT supports exporters in regional Australia by providing simplified and greater access to export markets, and more efficient access to imported goods needed for production. Independent economic modelling completed in support of ATT estimates that over ten years, household consumption will increase by $2.2 billion and business investment by $953.0 million as a result of trade facilitation benefits offered to ATT participants.

Industry interest has been strong with over 450 expressions of interest received since ATT opened on 1 July 2016. Interest has come from importers and exporters across multiple sectors including regional Australia. It is expected that industries that operate in regional Australia, including agriculture, fisheries, and food processing, will be particular beneficiaries of an ongoing program. For example, entities that trade in perishable commodities can derive benefit from faster and more efficient movement of goods across international borders.

Our North, Our Future—Business, Trade and Investment Gateway

This measure provided the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio additional funding of $26.9 million over four years from 2015–16 to implement a range of initiatives the Australian Government agreed as part of the Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia (led by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science). The measure will attract more investment and increase the number of international tourists travelling to northern Australia. As part of the measure, revenue collected by the Australian Government is expected to increase by $37.7 million over four years from 2015–16.

The following initiatives have been delivered in the 2016–17 financial year:

  • trial of ten-year validity Visitor visas for China—commenced on 12 December 2016;
  • trial of online lodgement of Visitor visa applications in Mandarin (Simplified Chinese)—commenced on 12 December 2016; and
  • full roll-out of online lodgement for Visitor visas to Chinese nationals – commenced on 20 February 2017.

Emerging International Airports

At the 2015–16 Budget, the Australian Government established a border clearance capability at Townsville and Sunshine Coast airports. Further, at the 2016–17 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Australian Government established ongoing border clearance services at the Canberra International Airport to support regular international air services. These measures are supporting the continued growth of international air services in regional Australia, encouraging businesses to invest, and delivering increased visitor numbers and providing a boost to the tourism industry.

Safe Haven Enterprise Visa

The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa is a temporary protection visa which encourages enterprise through work and study, while also strengthening regional Australia. The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa is available to people who have been assessed as engaging Australia’s protection obligations and who have fulfilled health, character, security and identity checks.

Holders of the visa will be able to apply for other substantive visas, including permanent visas (with the exception of the Permanent Protection visa) if they demonstrate that they have worked and/or studied in a designated area of regional Australia for at least three and a half years of their visa.

All the States and Territories of Australia have opted into the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa arrangements, and are responsible for identifying areas to be designated as regional for the purpose of the visa.

Humanitarian Programme—Allocation of Places

The Australian Government will continue to explore opportunities to increase regional settlement given existing pressures on major metropolitan centres. Currently, around 20 per cent of humanitarian entrants are settled in locations outside capital cities.

The Humanitarian Programme for 2016–17, 2017–18, 2018–19, 2019–20 and 2020–21 is set at 13,750, 16,250, 18,750, 18,750 and 18,750 places respectively, in line with an instrument made under section 39A of the Migration Act 1958.

Regional resettlement of refugees can occur with the support and involvement of local and State government, service providers and agencies, and the local community. The Humanitarian Settlement Services Programme is delivered by service providers on behalf of the Department of Social Services which works closely with local and State governments to support successful settlement outcomes.

2017–18 Migration Programme

The Australian Government seeks to maintain the size and composition for the 2017–18 permanent annual Migration Programme at 2016–17 levels (up to 190,000 places), which includes 128,550 Skill stream places. The Skill stream of the Migration Programme will continue to appropriately support the labour market, and benefit regional Australia by helping fill the need for skills in a range of regions and sectors.

The Migration Programme contributes directly to productivity and employment in regional Australia through the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme and the State/Territory and Regional Nominated visa category.

The Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme is a demand driven program that helps businesses in regional, remote or low population growth areas (outside the major metropolitan centres of Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and Melbourne) to recruit the skilled workers they need to manage and grow their operations. The State/Territory and regional nominated visa category will also continue to benefit regional areas experiencing labour market shortages.

Seasonal Worker Programme

The objective of Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) is to contribute to the economic development of Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste while assisting Australian employers to meet their demand for seasonal labour when they are unable to source local labour. Seasonal workers benefit through employment experience, remittances, skills and knowledge transfer. Australian employers benefit by having access to a reliable seasonal workforce that is able to return in future seasons.

Australia’s SWP is targeted at selected Pacific Island countries and Timor Leste, modelled on New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employers Scheme. The countries currently participating in the SWP are Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The SWP commenced on 1 July 2012 and was available only to the Australian horticulture sector. However, a trial of seasonal labour mobility arrangements in the accommodation, aquaculture, cane and cotton sectors in selected locations provided an opportunity to expand the program within these sectors. On 1 July 2015, the cap on the number of seasonal worker stream visas was removed. Subsequently, as a part of the Australian Government's Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, Australian employers in the tourism industry in Northern Australia can now participate in the SWP.

The Department of Employment is the lead agency responsible for the implementation and management of the SWP. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection supports the program by managing related immigration processes and providing assistance to train participating countries on Australia's visa requirements. Other key stakeholders in the SWP include the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Fair Work Ombudsman, Austrade and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Working Holiday Maker Programme

The Working Holiday Maker Programme allows young adults from partner countries to take extended holidays in Australia and support their travels with work. It is comprised of the Working Holiday (subclass 417) visa and the Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visa.

Since 2005, the Working Holiday (subclass 417) visa has been helping to address acute labour shortages in certain industries across regional Australia. A participant can acquire eligibility for a second Working Holiday visa by undertaking three months of ‘specified work’ in regional Australia while on their first working holiday visa. This creates an incentive to perform work in particular industries and regions, but does not obligate participants to do so. Participation is voluntary.

‘Specified work’ for this purpose includes employment activities in the agriculture, mining and construction industries. Regional Australia is defined by a list of postcodes developed in 2004–05 in consultation with State and Territory governments.

The agriculture industry remains the primary beneficiary of the Working Holiday Maker Programme, with around 90 per cent of specified work being agricultural in nature. Around eight to nine per cent performed specified work in the construction industry and around one to two per cent in the mining industry.

On 19 November 2016, Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visa holders became eligible to apply for a second year visa, if they undertake three months of ‘specified work’ in tourism and hospitality or agriculture in northern Australia while on their first visa. This was announced as part of the Australian Government’s Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.

In September 2016, the Australian Government announced a package of reforms relating to the Working Holiday Maker Programme to improve the supply of working holiday makers in Australia, including:

  • increasing the eligibility age from 30 to 35 years—implementation is in progress; and
  • allowing visa holders to work for the same employer for up to 12 months, as long as the second six months is worked in a different region or location—this has been implemented and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s website is being updated to effectively communicate this policy.

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