Over the past few months the Commonwealth Government has made a number of amendments to the migration legislation. These changes impact a wide range of visas and highlight the need to keep abreast of changes to immigration law.
The Commonwealth Government introduced an eVisitor visa for some visitors from the European Union. eVisitor visas permit non-citizens to visit Australia for tourism or business purposes. The purpose of the visa was to provide a uniform visa product for short-stay visitors from the EU. The visa permits holders to visit Australia on multiple occasions for 12 months immediately after the visa is granted. Visitors may remain in Australia for up to three months on each visit. Visa holders may also study in Australia for up to three months during the twelve month period. These changes apply to visa applications made on or after 27 October 2008.
Business Skills Visa
As of 9 August 2008, changes were made to the Migration Regulations 1994 (Cth) to facilitate members of the family unit of holders of a Business Skills visa to apply separately for a visa of the same class. Where the application is based on a de facto relationship, the relationship must have existed for at least 12 months.
Changes were also made to allow business owners to travel overseas for regular short periods without affecting their ability to satisfy the time spent in Australia in an application for a subclass 845 Australia visa.
The visa application charge for the Tourist (Class TR) visa has increased from $215 to $240 where the applicant is already in Australia at the time the application is lodged. This fee increase is effective as of 27 October 2008.
Skilled Graduate (Temporary) visa (subclass 485)
After 27 October 2008, it is mandatory for subclass 485 visa applicants to provide evidence of their English language ability at the time of the application. Previously applicants for a subclass 485 visa only had to provide evidence that they had made arrangements to undergo a language test for proficiency in English.
Working Holiday (subclass 417) Visas
Visa applicants having dependent children may be eligible for a working holiday subclass 417 visa provided that the dependent children do not accompany the applicant to Australia. Applicants cannot hold more than two working holiday visas in Australia.
In 2008, the Commonwealth Government made significant changes the law impacting refugees. In accordance with a previously announced policy, the Rudd Government made immigration detention an option of last resort. According to government figures, as of 7 November 2008, there were 279 people in immigration detention, less than half of whom were asylum seekers. This compares to 449 people in immigration detention in November 2007 and over 1100 people five years ago.
In addition, in August 2008 the Government eliminated temporary protection visas. Current and future applicants for protection are eligible for the grant of a permanent protection visa, provided the relevant criteria are satisfied.
Effective 5 December 2008, the Rudd Government extended a Memorandum of Understanding which renews the status of the People's Republic of China as a safe third country in respect of Vietnamese refugees settled in the PRC since 1979 and who arrived in Australia unlawfully after 1 January 1996.
As of 19 September 2008, non-citizens from elected countries may apply for a subclass 416 (special program) visa to undertake approved seasonal work in Australia. This change is a pilot scheme which was announced by the Commonwealth Government in August 2008.
The Migration Amendment (Notification Review) Act 2008 came into force on 5 December 2008. The Act clarifies some notification procedures to minimise errors and ensure visa applicants and visa holders are effectively notified of matters relevant to their dealings with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal. The amendments relate primarily to circumstances where minors have not appointed an authorised recipient for their documents, or circumstances where there has been an error in notification procedures.