Australian citizenship is acquired in two main ways, either by birth, descent or adoption, or by grant after settlement. Australian citizens have an unlimited right to enter, exit, and re-enter Australia. All other people wishing to enter Australia, i.e. non-citizens need a visa to lawfully enter and be in Australia whether on a temporary or permanent basis.
There are two main programs that people can use to migrate to Australia. The first is the Migration Program and the second is the Humanitarian Program.
The migration program includes three main streams, these are:
- the Skilled Migration Stream, which has a number of categories for people who have particular occupation skills, outstanding talents or business skills;
- the Family Migration Stream, where people can be sponsored by a relative who is an Australian citizen or permanent resident; and
- the Special Eligibility Migrants Stream, who are former citizens or residents wanting to return to Australia, or certain New Zealanders.
The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) regulates these programs. Australia is currently experiencing a skills shortage in many occupations and this has seen the government make sweeping changes to the intake available in the upcoming migration program year.
The Australian Government will increase the Migration Programme by 20,000 places in 2005-06. The programme will comprise 42,000 places in the Family Stream, 97,500 in the Skilled Stream and 500 Special Eligibility places.
It is hoped that these changes will give Australian employers a competitive advantage in employing overseas workers to meet Australia's short and long-term skills shortages.
The second program is the Humanitarian Program, which is designed for refugees and others in special humanitarian need. A major component of the humanitarian program is the Offshore Resettlement Program, which assists people in humanitarian need overseas for whom resettlement in another country is the only option.
The onshore protection component is for those people already in Australia who arrived on temporary visas or in an unauthorised manner, and who claim Australia's protection. The size of the 2005-06 humanitarian program is 13,000 places.
Migration legislation is complex and changes often. There are eligibility requirements which must be met, health and character requirements and sometimes financial obligations. There are many categories of visas and within these categories many more subclasses of visa. It is very important that the correct visa is applied for otherwise a migration application can be a frustrating and fruitless process.
There are many issues that prospective migrants should consider before deciding to take the life changing decision to migrate, whether to Australia, or any other country.
Some of these issues include living costs, employment conditions, availability of social security and medical costs. Migration Matters is currently working on a publication that will be available to prospective migrants regarding these and other issues.
There are also significant costs associated with migration. You must pay the relevant migration application charge when you apply, this fee is not refundable no matter what the outcome of your visa application is to DIMIA. You will also need to pay for a medical examination for each family member included in any application, along with other costs such as obtaining character clearances, and the cost of a certified translation of documents as required.
What to do once you arrive in Australia
There are some very important things that you should do as soon as you arrive in Australia. You will need to apply for a Tax File Number, register with Medicare and possibly take our Private Health Insurance. You will need to open a bank account, possibly register with Centrelink, apply for a Driver's Licence and enrol your children in school amongst other things.
To receive any type of income in Australia, you need a Tax File Number (TFN). Income includes wages or salary from a job, payments from the government, and money earned from investments including interest on savings accounts. In Australia, you can telephone the Tax Office on 13 2861, for the cost of a local call (higher charges on a mobile telephone) and have a TFN application form sent to you. Alternatively, you can apply for a TFN over the internet: http://www.ato.gov.au/
The Australian Government also provides help with basic medical expenses through a scheme called Medicare. You may be eligible to join Medicare and gain immediate access to health care services and programs. These include free public hospital care, help with the cost of out-of-hospital care, and subsidised medicines. To enrol in Medicare, you should go into a Medicare office 7 to 10 days after your arrival in Australia and take with you, your passport or travel documents. There are also many different private health insurance options you may wish to consider as Medicare does not provide for other services such as dental and optical care, ambulance.
In Australia, most income including salary or wages and government benefits are paid directly into a bank account. You will be required to open a bank account within six weeks of your arrival, you usually need only your passport as identification. After six weeks you will need extra identification to open an account.
Centrelink is a government agency which pays social security benefits and provides other forms of assistance. As a newly arrived migrant, you are not immediately eligible for social security (unless you are a refugee or humanitarian entrant). You do not have access to the full range of government employment services. If you are a permanent resident, you may be eligible to access some services. Centrelink is able to help you find a job, arrange for recognition of your skills and qualifications, and to access certain courses. Centrelink can also help you with family assistance payments to help with the cost of raising children.
Under Australian law, children between the ages of 6 to 15 must attend school. You should enrol your children in a school as soon as possible.
If you have a driver's licence from another country, in English or with an official translation, you are allowed to drive for your first three months as a resident in Australia. After the first three months, if you want to drive, you will need to have the appropriate Australian approved driver's licence. To get one you will usually need to pass a knowledge test, a practical driving test, and an eyesight test. In Australia, drivers' licences are issued by state and territory governments.