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Supporting Regional Net Migration

Supporting Regional Net Migration

Net migration to the region will increase investment, fill skilled job shortages, and underpin growth in the region.

Content accurate as of July 2020.

Over the last 15 years, overseas migrations has accounted for over 54% of Australia’s population growth and has driven Australia’s GDP growth of 57% over the same time. In the NQ region, the net migration has been negligible over the same period, which has restricted the regions capacity to capitalise on economic growth opportunities from the broader net migration growth.

Net overseas migration to Australia in 19/20 year is expected to fall by 30% and by 85% during the 20/21 financial year. Population growth through net overseas migration and natural population growth is what has kept consumption modestly positive in Australia. Overall population growth was forecast by Treasury to be 1.7%. At the end of September, prior to COVID-19, it was already down to 1.5%. ABS modelling at a fertility rate of 1.65 and a NOM of 175,000 means population growth would fall to 0.5% and that would have dire consequences for the economy.

In 2015, the Migration Council of Australia released a report on the economic impact of migration. The report outlines that the economic impact of migration flows through into every aspect of the economy. It has a profound positive impact not just on population growth, but also on labour participation and employment, on wages and incomes, on our national skills base and on net productivity. Set out in terms of the three ‘Ps’ — participation, productivity and population — migration is a significant factor. The report also showed that:

  • Australia’s projected population will be 38 million by 2050 and migration will be contributing $1,625 billion (1.6 trillion) to Australia’s GDP.
  • Migration will have added 15.7 per cent to our workforce participation rate, 21.9 per cent to after tax real wages for low-skilled workers, 5.9 per cent in GDP per capita growth.
  • Overall, by 2050, each individual migrant will on average be contributing approximately 10 per cent more to Australia’s economy than existing residents.
  • In the absence of a migration program, Australia’s population in 2050 would be 24 million; with the program they projected a population by 2050 of 38 million.
  • Over the next 35 years, migration will drive employment growth. As migrants are concentrated in the prime working age group and are relatively highly educated, they have a positive impact on the employment rate. By 2050, the percentage gain in employment of 45.1 per cent outstrips the population gain of 37.0 per cent.
  • Migration will ensure Australia remains a highly-skilled nation, as it will have led to a 60.4 per cent increase in the population with a university education.

The Australian average annual population growth rate in 2018 was 1.59%. Some areas of Australia are experiencing significantly higher levels of growth up to 8.05%. However, the population growth of North Queensland (Townsville SA4) (refer to Figure 1) has been negligible, with a total growth of only 0.4% from 2014-2019 (refer to Figure 2).

Figure 1: North Queensland Region (Townsville SA4)

Map of North Queensland Region

Figure 2: Estimated resident population growth – Townsville SA4 and Queensland

Graph comparing estimated resident population growth in Townsville and Queensland

Over the past 15 years, natural population increase has been consistent regarding its contribution to the population of North Queensland. However, migration has experienced significant change from over 3,000-person net increase in 2008 into a net loss of 1,022 in 2016 (refer to Figure 3). Although North Queensland has experienced a net loss in 2015 and 2016 regarding migration, the region continues to experience a growth in international migration, with over 700 persons arriving from overseas in 2017.

Figure 3: Components of Population Increase – North Queensland

Bar graph displaying the components of population increase in North Queensland

Between 2017 and 2018, capital city growth accounted for 79% of Australia’s total population growth, with the number of people living in Australia’s capital cities increasing by 1.9% (307,800) compared to a growth of 1% (83,200) outside capital cities (ABS, 2019).

In March 2019, the Australian Government released its Population Plan – Planning for Australia’s Future Population. This plan highlighted the need to achieve a more optimal settlement pattern in Australia to ensure the ongoing strength of the regions.

A component of this is the Migration Program. Commencing 2019/2020, this enacted a reduction in the planning ceiling from 190,000 places to 160,000 places for the next four years. Three migration streams were confirmed through this process - Skill, Family or Special Eligibility streams. Under the Skilled stream, the planning ceiling allows for 25,000 of these places to be regionally based. The Regional Categories have been established as Skilled – Employer Sponsored Regional (subclass 494) and Skilled – Work Regional (subclass 491).

From 2021, International students studying and living in regional locations will be eligible for one- or two-year extensions on post-study work visas (subclass 485). Predicated upon continued residence in a regional location, this policy aims to boost diversity and prosperity in regional Australia and ease growing infrastructure pressure in major cities.

While major capital cities have benefited from the growth in regional migration, the regions have not shared this benefit. There is a need to re-balance the share of growth that can be achieved from net migration going forward.

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened political instability around the world, particularly in places that were facing significant pressure prior to the pandemic.

While Townsville has a high unemployment rate, many of those unemployed may not possess the skills for the nature of the roles that are available. To attract net migration to Townsville of overseas arrivals, the region needs to attract appropriately skilled people and those with entrepreneurial mindsets to create new business opportunities in the region.

Hong Kong, a colony of the United Kingdom for 150 years, was returned to China in 1997. Operating on a “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong and China have maintained an uneasy balance since that time, despite the stark conflict between Hong Kong’s basic law and China’s more severe approach to governance and human rights.

In 2014, Beijing commenced vetting and approving political candidates for Hong Kong and working to enact extradition laws to mainland China. This led to escalating protests and public dissent, which further strained the vexed relationship between Beijing and the residents of Hong Kong.

With the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, China has expanded and sweeping powers to penalise political crimes both at home and abroad. The Law creates offences including Separatism, Subversion, Terrorism and Collusion.

Inducing residents to hate the government in Beijing or Hong Kong is defined as a serious crime. Penalties may include a maximum term of life imprisonment.

On 1 July 2020, the Prime Minister of United Kingdom announced that up to 3 million Hong Kong residents are being offered the chance to settle in the UK and ultimately apply for citizenship. British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong were granted special status in the 1980s, but currently have restricted rights and are only entitled to visa-free access to the UK for six months. Under the proposed change, all British Overseas Nationals and their dependents will be given the right to remain in the UK, including the right to work and study for five years. At that point, they will be able to apply for settled status and after a further year, seek citizenship.

On 9 July 2020, the Prime Minister of Australia announced provision of a five-year visa with a pathway to permanent residency for future Hong Kong applicants for temporary skilled visas, subject to meeting an updated skills list and appropriate marking testing. Arrangements will be established to focus on Hong Kong applicant’s ability to study and work in regional areas, to help address skills shortages in those areas, with express pathways to permanent residency, as already applies after three years.

North Queensland Migration Agreement
Current Policy

A Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) is a formal agreement between the Australian Government and a regional or state authority. It provides access to more overseas workers than a standard skilled migration program. The DAMA is a two-tier framework covering a defined regional area. Typically this is a five-year agreement with the region’s representative and then labour agreements with employers under the settings of the head agreement.

Proposed Policy

Rapidly establish the North Queensland Migration Agreement between the Australian Government and NQ Regional Organisation of Councils (NQROC).

Creation of a new visa subclass that facilitates individuals directly accessing this visa subclass as opposed to employers.

Eligibility for the subclass should enable skilled workers, business owners, and humanitarian entrants that relocate to the NQ regional area.

Make the DAMA exempt from the Planning Ceiling to facilitate an additional 25,000 migrants per annum for the next five years under the NQ Migration Agreement.

Responsibility
  • Australian Government
  • Local Government
Resettlement Visa
Current Policy

Introduction of a new security law that fundamentally changes the freedom of the people of Hong Kong. The United Kingdom has provided avenues for up to three million Hong Kong residents to settle in the UK. A similar program has also been offered to Hong Kong citizens by Canada.

Proposed Policy

Establish a visa subclass that recognises Hong Kong citizens that have gained visas into United Kingdom or Canada between 2020 through to 2025, who would like to resettle in Australia. The visa subclass would require persons reside in the North Queensland region for a minimum of three years in a consecutive four-year period.

Responsibility
  • Australian Government
  • Queensland Government
  • Local Government
Student Relocation Visa
Current Policy

Townsville currently has the highest population of Hong Kong students north of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

Visa extensions with a post-study work right apply to those who graduate from a regional campus with a higher education or postgraduate qualification and maintain ongoing residence in a regional area while holding their subclass 485 visa.

Proposed Policy

International Students from Hong Kong studying in Australia face returning to a significantly changed political environment.

Immediate creation of a visa subclass that provides upon completion of degree underway, a five-year post-study work rights if they relocate to, and continue to reside in, the NQ regional area.

Responsibility
  • Australian Government
Student Transfer Visa
Current Policy

International Student Transfer for Hong Kong Tertiary institutes through to North Queensland Universities.

Proposed Policy

Creation of a new subclass of visa that facilitates all students from Hong Kong that have transferred to tertiary institutions in the NQ regional area, a
five-year post-study work rights provided they continue to reside in the region.

Provide a mechanism under this visa for families of the student from Hong Kong to also migrate to the region on humanitarian grounds.

Responsibility
  • Australian Government
Business Relocation Visa
Current Policy

There are more than 1,000 international companies that have their regional headquarters based in Hong Kong that might consider relocating to Australia. New incentives are being developed to attract export-oriented Hong Kong-based businesses. This will include economic incentives and permanent visa pathways available for all critical Hong Kong-based staff out of the relocated business.

Proposed Policy

Through the North Queensland Migration agreement mentioned above, economic incentives are higher if the businesses move to North Queensland instead of capital cities.

Responsibility
  • Australian Government

Positive migrations to the region, sustainable long-term jobs, and economic diversification and growth.

Policy
  • Townsville Connect
  • Taxation and Revenue
  • Insurance Reform
Programs
  • NQT-1024 – STEMBooster
Projects
  • NQT-1202 – NQ ICT Centre of Excellence
  • NQT-1081 – Renewable hydrogen and industries using recycled water
  • NQT-1083 – Smartlink Transport Connection
  • NQT-1084 – Southern Industrial Development Corridor – Lansdown Trunk Infrastructure
  • NQT-1089 – Tropical Aquaculture Accelerator
  • NQT-1095 – Australian CoE Simulation Training Precinct
  • NQT-1099 – Townsville Eastern Access Railway Corridor
  • NQT-1097 – TropiQ enabling trunk infrastructure and Smartlink Transport Connection
  • NQT-1107 – Smart Precinct NQ and Townsville Connect
Initiatives
  • NTQ-1023 – International student pathway into Northern Queensland