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Migration programme revamped to benefit Australia

The Government has revamped the Migration (Non-Humanitarian) Programme to improve the focus on Australia's social and economic needs, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock announced today.

"While maintaining an ongoing commitment to family reunion, the 1996-97 Programme of 74,000 incorporates a significant shift towards skilled migration. Skilled migrants make a particular contribution to Australia's economic development and their representation will be increased in the Programme," Mr Ruddock said.

"The shift in emphasis is also due to the high and sustained levels of unemployment in the Preferential Family category. Under the previous Government this category came to dominate the Migration Programme in an unsustainable manner.

"The Programme level is close to the average over the past four years of 72,550. The Government has delivered on its commitment to maintain the Programme at around current levels.

"We have acted to ensure Australia obtains optimal benefit from a non-discriminatory immigration programme, which balances our social, humanitarian, economic, and environmental responsibilities.

"An improved focus on skills, even in parts of the family stream, will help ensure migrants can contribute to and share in Australia's growth."

The Programme comprises:

. Skilled stream - 28,000

. Preferential Family - 36,700

. Concessional Family - 8,000

. Special Eligibility - 1,300

(Note: see separate release for Humanitarian Programme)

"The emphasis on developing Australia's skill base will be achieved by an increase in the Business Skills category and in the Independent category. Both deliver substantial economic benefits," Mr Ruddock said.

"The Business Skills category has been given greater priority, because business migrants have a history of creating jobs, investment and export income for Australia."

As foreshadowed by the Government, points for English language will be introduced for the Concessional Family category, to add to the skill factors already considered under this category. This change will take effect in November 1996.

"Research has consistently shown that good English skills are the key factor to labour market and overall settlement success for new immigrants," Mr Ruddock said.

"While maintaining a strong commitment to family migration, the Government will ensure it is genuinely contributing to Australia's social fabric. We will act on reported incidents of abuse of the spouse/fiance provisions of the Preferential Family category."

To achieve this outcome, the Government will introduce a comprehensive and integrated set of measures to include:

. two year probationary visas for all spouse/fiance cases;

. a two year co-habitation requirement for de facto relationships;

. limitations on serial sponsorships;

. more rigorous bona fide testing of spouse/fiance applications; and

. wider application of the existing Assurance of Support measures.

"The Government is also concerned at the additional costs associated with a rising number of applications from parents in recent years. To address this increase, a new balance of family test will operate for parent applications received from today," Mr Ruddock said.

"The balance of family test has required that at least half an applicant's children live in Australia. The new test will require that a clear majority of an applicant's children live in Australia.

"The Government has also decided that from today, only Australian citizens will be able to sponsor people under the Preferential Family category. The right to sponsor family members to become part of Australian society is a privilege that should only be available to those who have made a public commitment to Australia by becoming an Australian citizen."

To ensure the Migration Programme does not exceed planning levels, the Government will have to manage the large number of applications inherited from policies of the previous Government.

"Visa issue in the Independent and Concessional Family categories will again have to be capped and the impact of passmarks will have to be reviewed. I expect to make a further announcement on passmarks in the near future," Mr Ruddock said.

"Parts of the Preferential Family category will also have to be capped, although this will not immediately affect spouses, dependent children or aged parents," Mr Ruddock said.

In addition the Government will seek to amend the Migration Act to provide for a greater ability to manage the Migration Programme.

"Left unchecked, the Migration Programme for 1996-97 would have been almost 100,000," Mr Ruddock said.

SYDNEY

MEDIA CONTACT:

Steve Ingram, 06 277 7860

ATTACHMENT

MIGRATION (NON- HUMANITARIAN) PROGRAMME PLANNING LEVELS 1995- 96 AND 1996- 97

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