The government has committed to a mere 7-day processing time for applicants of its newest skilled visa category in a bid to make Australia a more attractive for IT professionals as part of a set of long-awaited changes to the migration system. 

Migrants coming into jobs that earn at least $135,000 a year will have their applications fast-tracked as part of the 'specialist skills pathway’ within the new Skills in Demand visa which also provides easier pathways to permanent residency. 

“This pathway will be a new streamlined approach for highly skilled specialists, to ensure Australia can quickly and easily recruit top talent in areas of need,” the highly anticipated Migration Strategy says.

“It will, for example, help Australia attract highly skilled engineering managers who develop electrolysers to help with our transition to a net zero economy, cyber specialists who assist banks to respond to cyber attacks and software engineers who help Australia embrace the artificial intelligence transformation.” 

The government hopes a 7-day turnaround for visa applications will entice in-demand workers, who may have been discouraged by historically long processing times, to choose Australia for their next career step. 

Migrants can be accepted into the streamlined pathway for any job so long as it isn’t trades work, machinery operating and driving, or labouring.  

They must earn at least $135,000 – a figure that will be indexed annually – and can earn “no less than Australian workers in the same occupation”. 

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the updated migration strategy will “get migration working” for everyone in Australia. 

“The strategy helps us get the skills we need – in healthcare, for our net zero transition and in our digital economy,” she said. 

“We are acting to design out migrant worker exploitation from the system so we can protect wages and conditions for migrants and locals alike.” 

Opposition spokesperson Dan Tehan accused the government of “[opening] the doors to record immigration when Australians were enduring housing shortages and a rental crisis” and said it was neglecting regional Australia. 

Fixing a broken system

Along with the Skills in Demand visa and fast-tracked application pathways, the government is also making it easier for migrants to switch employers to help stop worker exploitation. 

This will be done through a public register of approved temporary migrant sponsors so people can more easily find new employers. 

Jobs and Skills Australia will play a formalised role in ensuring migration is a fit-for-purpose tool to fix skills shortages through an “evidence-based approach to identifying labour market need” that the government hopes will be more streamlined. 

English language requirements will be increased for international students and there will be greater scrutiny of international education providers. 

Outgoing ACS CEO Chris Vein said the strategy’s target of “reshaping permanent skilled migration to drive long-term prosperity while targeting temporary skilled migration to address workforce shortage areas” matches the organisation’s policies. 

“Similarly, the commitments to develop a ‘skills in demand’ visa category along with specialist and core skills pathways are welcome moves to make Australia a more attractive destination for global talent,” he said. 

Industry group the Tech Council of Australia likewise welcomed the new strategy, saying reduced red tape and processing times will make it easier for businesses to hire people with much-needed IT skills. 

“Equivalent economies such as Canada and the UK already have 5-10 day service standards and much clearer paths to permanent residency,” said Tech Council CEO Kate Pounder. 

“That has put Australia at a disadvantage globally in attracting top talent. With this change, Australia has confirmed we’re the equal of any nation for attracting skilled workers in high demand.” 

Since coming into power in 2022, the government has been vocal about fixing Australia’s migration system that had copped an $875 million budget shortfall and was seeing wait times for visa approvals balloon out to 15 months thanks to an enormous backlog of applications

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said her department had prioritised 60,000 skilled migrant applications to help clear that backlog.  

She then signaled a complete overhaul of the migration system which saw its first tranche of changes, including visa extensions for international IT graduates, come into effect from July 1 this year. 

But now the Labor government is staring down a political crisis as high migration levels have become a discursive lightning rod during a high cost of living. 

Assistant secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Liam O’Brien, said the union welcomed the strategy's “evidence-based approach to assessing skills shortages”. 

“For too long, employers have been able to claim a ‘skills shortage’ in order to use temporary migration as a cheap source of labour and avoid their responsibility to skill up and offer opportunities to local workers,” he said.