Budget Special: VACs increase 5.4% from 1 July 2019; GSM single applicants to be awarded points, partners may become a disadvantage

The Federal Budget was handed down last night, and while many of the reforms proposed for Australia’s immigration program, including a reduction in permanent migration numbers and the addition of two new regional visas have already been covered, finer details in the budget revealed a couple of previously unannounced changes, including a modest increase in visa application charges from 1 July 2019, and a tweak to the way General Skilled Migration (GSM) visas calculate partner skills for the points test.

Visa application charges except for visitor visas will increase 5.4 per cent from 1 July 2019

As is almost routine, visa application charges except for Subclass 600 – Visitor visas will increase 5.4 per cent on 1 July 2019.

While this is around double the Consumer Price Index, which was the policy limit not too long ago, it is probably not a shock to anyone especailly when compared to previous hikes.

GSM visas will prioritise single applicants and partners with English

A material change will be to the way partner skills are awarded points for GSM visas. From November 2019, partners will no longer be required to have a skill assessment in an occupation on a relevant list, but will still be required to have competent English. While this may benefit some, on the other hand visa applicants without partners will be awarded points too.

GSM visas that involve the points test are:

  • Subclass 189 – Skilled – Independent visa under the Points Tested stream;

  • Subclass 190 – Skilled – Nominated visa, and

  • Subclass 489 – Skilled - Regional (Provisional) visa.

All GSM visas listed above require at least 65 points, however, for a 189 visa and a 489 visa sponsored by an eligible relative, only those with sufficiently high points will be invited to apply for a visa.

While there are many ways to score points, one is with partner skills for 5 points. This requires the spouse or de facto partner of a primary visa applicant included in the visa application, at the time of invitation to:

  • be under the age of 45;

  • have competent English; and

  • have a valid full skill assessment in an occupation on a relevant list.

What is deemed the relevant list depends on what application is being lodged. For a 189 visa and 489 visa sponsored by an eligible relative, the occupation can only be on the Medium and Long‑term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL). For a 190 visa, the occupation can be on either the MLTSSL or the Short‑term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL). For a 489 visa nominated by a State or Territory, it can be on any list, including the Regional Occupation List (ROL). All three lists are in the one legislative instrument.

The Budget Paper No. 2 proposes (at page 11) that in November 2019 the points test will be adjusted:

to award additional points to primary applicants when their partner has competent English but does not meet the existing requirements for skilled partner points.

The Budget Paper does not specify whether the age limit will also be removed.

However, perhaps the bigger announcement is that single applicants will also be awarded additional points to ensure they are not disadvantaged. This therefore means that visa applicants with partners without competent English will be disadvantaged and in the highly competitive world of the SkillSelect model could be the difference between being invited to apply for a visa or not.

The rationale for this change is to ensure better labour market outcomes for all visa holders, not just primary visa applicants.