More than one path

There are two main pathways to migrating to Australia: temporary visas and permanent migration.

Within these two pathways are several different avenues for coming to live in Australia.

Temporary immigration covers a number of visa categories including international students, skilled workers and people on working holidays.

Chart of temporary visa holders

To become a permanent resident, immigrants can apply under the migration program or the humanitarian program.

New Zealanders have their own set of rules to comply with if they wish to become permanent residents, but hundreds of thousands are in Australia on a special category visa (sc444 in the chart above).

But even under these two pathways there are multiple pathways.

Australian National University senior migration law academic Marianne Dickie told SBS World News migrating to Australia was so complicated most people needed the aid of a migration lawyer or agent to navigate the process.

"For most people it's not just filling in forms, it's knowing which path to take," she said.

"There's 5,000 migration agents in Australia. It's really complicated and the law changes all the time. It's hard, it's expensive and it takes time."

International student visas

To study in Australia, international students are required to apply for one of a number of different student visas.

The subclass 500 visa covers those wishing to study full-time at a recognised educational institution.

The subclass 590 visa allows a guardian to accompany someone on a student visa if the student is under the age of 18.

The guardian must be aged over 21 and be a parent or otherwise authorised guardian of the student.

Those looking for training opportunities which allow participation in structured workplace-based training may be eligible for the Training visa (subclass 407).

For those who have finished their studies and wish to stay in Australia and work temporarily there, an option is the temporary graduate visa, subclass 485.

Skilled migration

Australia accepts temporary skilled migrants across a range of industries under various different visas.

These visas include general skilled migration, visas for the offshore oil and gas industry and visas for entrepreneurs, business owners and investors.

One of the most well-known, and politically controversial, working visas is the 457 visa.

From March 2018, the 457 visa will be abolished and replaced with the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa.

The TSS visa will be comprised of a Short-Term stream of up to two years, and a Medium-Term stream of up to four years.

The Short-Term stream is designed for Australian businesses to fill skill gaps with foreign workers on a temporary basis, where a suitably skilled Australian worker cannot be sourced.

The Medium-Term stream will allow employers to source foreign workers to address shortages in a narrower range of high-skill and critical need occupations, where a suitably skilled Australian worker cannot be sourced.

The changes will impact current 457 visa applicants and holders, prospective applicants, and businesses sponsoring skilled migrants and industry.

Existing 457 visas continue to remain in effect. 457 visa applicants that had lodged their application on or before 18 April 2017, and whose application had not yet been decided, with an occupation that has been removed from the STSOL, may be eligible for a refund of their visa application fee. Nominating businesses for these applications may also be eligible for a refund of related fees.

Working holiday visas

The working holiday visa program (subclass 417) encourages travellers to use their time in Australia as a form of cultural exchange.

People aged between 18 and 30 can apply to come to Australia for 12 months and work for up to six months with one employer and study for up to four months.

Those applicants who have worked in an eligible regional area for a minimum of 88 days are then eligible to apply for a second 12 months on a working holiday visa.

However, a recent Fair Work report found these visa holders, particularly those with poor English language skills, were vulnerable to abuse and exploitation at the hands of some employers in regional areas.

The report found the visa holders, who are often backpackers, were often forced to work for poor or no pay and were threatened with the potential loss of the second visa if they did not do comply with illegal conditions or requests.

New Zealand citizens

There are multiple restrictions governing how New Zealand citizens can migrate permanently to Australia.

These restrictions have been tightened over the years and the access New Zealand residents living in Australia have to welfare has also been wound back.

Most residents are in Australia on a special category visa that allows them to remain in Australia indefinitely and live, work and study.

New Zealanders may be able to access Australian citizenship - and the benefits it brings - if they have lived in Australia on the special visa for more than five years earning an income of approximately $55,000 per annum.

Permanent migration program

Migrants can apply for permanent residency in Australia under various different visas.

The government provided for 190,000 places for permanent migration in 2016-17.

Of these places, 128,550 are allocated for skilled migrants, 57,400 for family migrants and 565 for "former residents who have maintained close ties with Australia". 

They can be sponsored under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme, or they can have lived in a specified regional area for two years and worked in that area for a minimum of one year.

The sponsorship scheme is designed to allow eligible relatives to sponsor family members to join them in the regional area. 

Secondary applicants, including children, can be covered in these applications.

Other paths to permanent residency include the family stream and the business skills stream, Australian National University senor migration law academic Marianne Dickie told SBS World News.

She said the time it took to get various permanent visas approved could vary widely and the family pathways could take the longest.

Applications for parent visas are placed in a queue, and once the allocation for that year is exhausted, no more applications will be approved, but will remain in the queue.

"Parent [visas] are hard, children [visas] are not as hard and partner visas have gone up to $6,000," Mrs Dickie said.

Partner visas were two year provisional visas that were reviewed after 24 months to ensure that couple was still together before the partner was allowed permanent residency, Mrs Dickie said.

She said visas for other family members were given the lowest priority and could take two or three years to get approved, and carer visas could take even longer.

"You have to prove the person needs you to care for them for three years, but it can taken 10 years to get it approved," she said.

Information on the government's website indicates remaining relative and age-dependent relative visa applications could take up to 50 years to process.

Businesses visas were often assessed more quickly, Mrs Dickie said, particularly for people who filled the government's skilled migration criteria exactly.

"With the skilled stream, people have to put in an expression of interest that they want to migrate to Australia and it goes into a pool and the government scoops the pool and selects people to approve," she said.

"It can be really fast from that point or it can take up to a year."

But she said the regional sponsorship stream could be the faster option for people wishing to move to Australia.

"It really depends on the individual, sometimes they're better off going into regional sponsorship," she said.

"[Those] seem a better option unless you're a really highly-skilled hit-the-nail-on-the-head person."

Particular aspects, like language and health checks, can delay all sorts of permanent migration visa approvals, Mrs Dickie said.

Refugee and humanitarian program

The Australian government planned for 13,750 visas in the humanitarian program in 2016-17.

In addition to this the government has recently brought another 12,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict to Australia.

Mrs Dickie told SBS World News the government chose refugees registered with UNHCR and living in refugee camps to come to Australia.

She said the government tended to focus on particular countries each year, recently taking refugees from Burma and several countries in Africa, like South Sudan.

The government will only grant protection visas to refugees and asylum seekers who arrived "lawfully", often with the help of a migration agent.

These people are then given assistance to apply for protection visas under the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS).

People who arrive by boat are not eligible for the IAAAS scheme and have been placed in off-shore processing in detention centres on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

The government hopes to close these centres and continues to pursue deals with countries to resettle refugees who arrive in Australia by boat.

Humanitarian visas can take years to process, often because mandatory health checks delay the the process, Mrs Dickie said.

"Humanitarian entrants coming under the family reunion or sponsored criteria may need to travel through very unsafe regions to undergo their health assessments," she said.

"Many are put through the process more than once because the health assessment only lasts one year and the delays make them invalid."

The government also offers temporary protection visas and safe haven enterprise visas under the humanitarian program that take at least six months to process once an application is lodged.

Total View