Australia and India have signed a new migration deal. Here’s what we know

Key Points
  • A new bilateral migration deal outlines changes to visa rules to boost labour mobility.
  • A new pilot scheme will also be created offering 3,000 places annually for early career professionals in India.
  • The Indian-born population is the second largest migrant community in Australia.
A new migration deal signed between Australia and India has been praised for creating more opportunities for young people and early career professionals in both countries.
The migration deal was signed during Narendra Modi’s first visit to Australia in nine years, adding to a completed in the last year. An interim bilateral trade agreement has been in operation for five months, with plans to expand the scope and finalise the deal by the year’s end. That deal aims to boost bilateral trade to $100 billion.

India is Australia’s sixth largest trading partner with two-way trade in goods and services valued at $46.5 billion in 2022.

The 10-page migration agreement outlines new options for visa applicants to extend or apply for visas to boost labour mobility for students, graduates, academics, professionals and short-stay arrivals. There are also provisions to crack down on irregular migration and people smuggling.

Also contained in the deal is a new pilot program, known by the acronym MATES, for university graduates and early-career professionals in India to come to Australia on a two-year visa without sponsorship.

What have Anthony Albanese and Narendra Modi said about the new deal?

Announcing the migration and green hydrogen agreements earlier this week, Mr Modi said it showed a new “depth” and “maturity” to the bilateral relationship.
“In the language of cricket, our ties have entered the T20 mode,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
He said the relationship was built on a common set of democratic values, and strengthened through trust and respect.

“The Indian community in Australia is a living bridge between our countries.”

Narendra Modi posted this photo on his Twitter account with the message: “Long live India-Australia friendship!”. Source: Twitter / @narendramodi

The Indian community in Australia is the fastest-growing migrant group in Australia, increasing five-fold in the last 20 years. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, just under 60,000 people arrived in Australia from India in 2021-22. Close to 784,000 Australians have Indian ancestry — 3.1 per cent of the total population.

After the United Kingdom, the Indian-born population is the second largest migrant community in Australia, equivalent to 9.5 per cent of Australia’s overseas-born population.
Mr Albanese said he wants to see all aspects of the bilateral relationship grow.
“Now we want to see more connections — more Australian and Indian students living and studying in each other’s countries, and bringing those experiences home,” Mr Albanese said on Tuesday, after announcing a to be based at Parramatta in western Sydney.

How significant is the deal?

Analysts and Indian-Australian leaders have welcomed the deal, saying it reflects an expansion of the bilateral relationship to recognise the increased migration activity between India and Australia.
The former chair of the Australia India Business Council, Sheba Nandkeolyar, said the deal is a win for both countries.
“Mr Modi has been very overt about the fact that India has a lot to offer the world. He has said that India is literally going to be the workforce for the world — whether it be doctors, engineers, STEM, technology, ” she told SBS News.

“It’s going to benefit Australia greatly to have even more talented, capable, educated, professionally qualified people. As the Indian-Australian community grows, it is becoming really critical to get Australia and India to strengthen areas of co-operation.”

Analyst Teesta Prakash from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said Mr Modi was being very strategic in his support for the new migration deal.
“It highlights how the increase in migration is now driving the relationship. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that prime minister Modi is now really trying to organise his foreign policy through a domestic lens,” she said.

“The newer migrant arrivals are younger than migrants who moved to Australia 10 or even 20 years ago. As you saw with the rock star reception he received in Sydney, it shows the Indian diaspora are still very much connected to the motherland, as it were. [The deal] highlights he is pushing for a positive agenda for migrants who have more recently arrived from India to Australia.”

What are the added visa options?

More accommodating conditions and rules have been outlined in the Migration and Mobility Partnership Arrangement covering short-stay arrivals, students, graduates, researchers, professionals and those seeking training visas for workplace-based opportunities.
From 1 July this year, Indian graduates of Australian tertiary institutions on a student visa can apply to work and pursue professional development without visa sponsorship for up to eight years.
Australian nationals wanting to conduct research in a public or private research or a higher education institute in India, can apply for an S-5 visa in India for a period of three years or for the duration of the project.

There is also a standalone new pilot program MATES (Mobility Arrangement for Talented Early-professionals Scheme) that will have an annual cap of 3,000 places for four years.

The list of eligible educational qualifications covers renewable energy, mining, engineering, ICT, artificial intelligence, FinTech, AgriTech, with scope for more areas to be added at a later date by a joint working group.
Bodean Hedwards is the co-chair of the Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD), an initiative that has for the past decade supported 30 emerging leaders from both countries to come together annually to deepen bilateral ties.
“I think what this will really do is help young people see the opportunity,” she told SBS News.
“It will provide another pathway for young people to not only go and study there, but also then to go work with Indian businesses. It just fosters this collaboration. And this is what we see happen at the AIYD. We see these incredible collaborations addressing some of the big issues that the Australia-India relationship is going to have to address. Be that climate change, be that food and water security.

“We need more people to be going backwards and forwards between the two countries, if we are going to be able to address some of those big challenges that are currently ahead of us.”

Andrew Deuchar, a scholar with the Australia India Institute, said the expanded options are exciting to see, but added the implementation will be important.
“I think there is a lot to be excited about. The closer linking between two countries – I think there’s so much to learn from each other,” he said.

“But for that potential to be realised, we have to think seriously about what we’re going to do to harness the strengths and capacities to ensure that when international students and new migrants are here, they’re able to contribute in ways that they value. And that would be good for Australia in economic terms, but also socially and culturally.”

What comes next?

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs and India’s Ministry of External Affairs will oversee the implementation of the agreement — covering visa activity and also combating people smuggling and irregular migration.
A joint working group will be established to develop a protocol on implementation to “ensure diversity, fairness and equity of access…and integrity” of the MATES scheme.
The group will also review the annual cap and list of eligible educational qualifications.

The provisions on MATES will be incorporated in the overarching economic trade agreement (Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement) that both countries are seeking to finalise by the year’s end.

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