The maximum number of migrants able to move to regional Australia under a successful new scheme will be lifted to 25,000.
When the regional migration program was announced earlier this year, 23,000 places were reserved for migrants who committed to living and working in regional Australia.
If they were to live and work in the regions for at least three years, they will eligible for permanent residency.
Immigration Minister David Coleman said 6000 visas were approved under the program in the first three months of this financial year, compared with under 3000 in the final quarter of 2018/19 and prior to the initiative getting underway.
“So we have seen a very strong start to the year in encouraging regional migration,’ Mr Coleman told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.
The program will see less people settling in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and more settling outside those three big cities.
“We think that is a good thing, because we know that in regional Australia, (and) in other small and medium-sized cities, there is a lot of demand for skilled migration,” Mr Coleman said.
In separate statement, the federal government said Perth and the Gold Coast will no longer be classified as major cities, “ensuring they remain an attractive destination for skilled migrants and international students”.
The new definition will come into effect from November 16.
Labor described the change in Gold Coast’s status as an “embarrassing backflip” by the government, having previously been adamant that such a change wouldn’t happen.
“Today, they buckled under pressure from Labor, the higher education sector, Study Gold Coast and the Gold Coast Bulletin,” opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally and Labor senator Murray Watt said in a statement.
“Labor supports opportunities for people to settle in regional areas and the government should be doing everything possible to make settling in regional communities an attractive option for potential migrants.”
On Perth’s inclusion as a regional centre for migration purposes, WA Labor Premier Mark McGowan said it will enhance the state’s appeal to international students.
“It’s bringing Perth into line with Adelaide, Hobart and other regional parts of Australia,” Mr McGowan told reporters in Perth.
He said unlike NSW, Victoria and Queensland, WA does not have regional universities.
“That means we were at a disadvantage,” the premier said.
He said the state relies very heavily on international students, being a $2 billion industry and directly creating over 14,000 jobs.
Federal Finance Minister and WA senator Mathias Cormann agreed it was good news for the state and will help WA’s world class universities compete with other universities around Australia.
“This is something that will help us grow the economy, create more jobs, create better opportunity for people here in Western Australia to get ahead,” he told reporters.
Australian Associated Press