Last Updated: 2018-06-13
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CANBERRA, June 13 (NNN-Xinhua) -- The number of Australian migrant visas granted in 2018 is likely to be down 25,000 on last year, according to figures disclosed in Parliament.

Early indications show the number of migrants entering Australia in 2017-18 will be around 165,000, almost 15 percent below the planned figure and at the lowest level in seven years.

Australia's migration program dropped to 183,000 last financial year, after four years at 190,000 and, according to figures published by Guardian Australia on Wednesday, is set to fall further again this year.

Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, has said he supported immigration at its current levels, but added that the government would reduce migrant numbers "where we believe it's in our national interest," citing traffic gridlock and unaffordable housing in cities, such as Sydney and Melbourne.

The government granted 138,086 permanent visas to the end of April this year, two-thirds of which were skilled visas and one-third family (excluding humanitarian visas, which sit outside the migration program figure).

Comparing July-December 2016 with the same period the previous year, figures show significant falls across most visa categories, but most substantially among skilled independent and employer-sponsored work visas.

Changes to the 457 visa regime in March 2018 are likely to be responsible for the drop in employer-sponsored visas, which fell from 22,843 to 16,047.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made the surprise announcement in 2017 that the government would replace skilled 457 visas with a new category to give "Australians priority for Australian jobs."

The new category has reduced the number of occupations available to skilled foreign workers and raised the threshold to qualify, leading to a significant drop-off in successful applicants.

The country of origin for most migrants to Australia has shifted from Britain and South Africa, to China and India over the past two decades.

Since 2005, migration has been a larger driver of population increase than babies being born in Australia. Migration now accounts for about 60 percent of Australia's population increase.

A 2016 Productivity Commission report predicted the population would reach 40 million by 2060, and argued the future size of Australia would be largely determined by the country's migration policies. -- NNN-XINHUA