The number of gay and lesbian professionals migrating to Australia is set to grow after the federal government announced plans this week to recognise same-sex partners of skilled migrants.

Immigration minister Amanda Vanstone announced the long-awaited reform on Monday after lobbying by gay groups and from doctors, who said the existing rules were deterring much-needed GPs from moving here.

The changes, due to take effect on 1 July, aim to increase Australia’s skilled labour pool. Under the new rules, temporary skilled migrants will be able to include their same-sex partners on their visa applications.

The partners will be able to stay in Australia for as long as the main visa applicant and will also have the right to work.

Until the reforms come into force, only heterosexuals can list their partners on their application. Gay and lesbian partners are forced to apply separately, sometimes as visitors with no work rights.

The immigration minister was likely to extend the changes to students and other categories of skilled migrants before the end of the year, a spokesperson for Amanda Vanstone told Sydney Star Observer.

The fact that couples were not treated together in the same application created some uncertainty for them and a potential loss for Australia of highly skilled migrants, Vanstone said.

This change will remove this anomaly.

Last year a British doctor with a same-sex partner decided against a job in a Sydney practice with a chronic GP shortage because of the immigration rules, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Two other overseas doctors also refused work in Sydney because they could not easily bring their gay or lesbian partners with them.

As immigration minister, I was determined to ensure that there were no barriers within my area of responsibility to filling these shortages, Vanstone said.

Lachlan Riches, senior advisor at the Gay and Lesbian Immigration Task Force, said the sensible and humane reform would remove one of the last major areas of anti-gay discrimination in immigration law.

It’s the single largest area of reform that we’ve been campaigning for for over a decade, he told the Star.

Riches anticipated an increase in gay and lesbian professionals applying to work in Australia.

The [temporary skilled migrant visa] category is a very significant source of skilled labour for Australia, he said.

He urged the Immigration Department to recognise same-sex partners of permanent skilled migrant applicants as quickly as possible.

Otherwise, he said, you’d have a ridiculous situation where someone can come in as a [same-sex] partner for two or three or four years, then not be able to be nominated as a partner when the permanent visa application is lodged.

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby also welcomed the reform.

We’re really pleased to see the federal government recognise the existence of same-sex couples in federal law, spokesperson Toby Brennan told the Star.

We’ll continue to apply pressure on the government for a full range of changes.

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