The Government has announced the introduction of three new skilled regional visas, which aim to bring skilled overseas workers to regional parts of Australia to support population growth and economic development in regional communities. The new skilled regional visa programme replaces the existing Skilled Regional (Provisional) subclass 489 and Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme subclass 187 visa subclasses. These changes also affect the points test and the ranking order in which invitations are issued for all points-tested skilled visa subclasses. The first of these changes will come into effect from 16 November 2019, with the final amendments due to be implemented by 16 November 2022.

What are the changes?

Introduction of a new Work Regional (Provisional) subclass 491 visa

Commencing from 16 November 2019, a new points-tested Work Regional (Provisional) subclass 491 visa will replace the existing Skilled Regional (Provisional) subclass 489, which will close to new applicants in the First Provisional Visa stream (commonly referred to as the invited pathway) from this date.

The subclass 489 visa programme will remain open to Second Provisional Visa stream applicants (also known as the extended stay pathway). This visa stream is only available to applicants who already hold a subclass 475, 487, 495 or 496 visa (which are no longer being granted by the Department).

Eligible family members may also apply as visa dependents.

To be eligible for the new subclass 491, applicants will need to either be nominated by a State or Territory Government or be sponsored by an eligible family member who is usually resident in a designated regional area of Australia. The sponsoring family member must also be at least 18 years of age, an Australian citizen or permanent resident, or eligible New Zealand citizen, and be related to the primary visa applicant (or to their spouse or de facto partner, if they are also applying for the visa). Related is a defined term in the migration provisions.

Subclass 491 visa applicants will be required to satisfy the following key criteria to qualify:

  • Have received an invitation to apply for the subclass 491 visa;
  • Be aged under 45 at time of application;
  • Have nominated a skilled occupation which is included in the applicable Skilled Occupation List and have a positive skills assessment in the nominated occupation;
  • Have a minimum level of Competent English at time of application; and
  • Declare a genuine intention to live, work and study in a designated regional area (also applicable to visa dependents).

Health and character criteria will also apply (including to visa dependents).

This new temporary visa will have a term of 5 years.

Applications may be lodged onshore or outside Australia. To apply in Australia, the applicant must hold either a substantive visa, or a Bridging A, B or C Visa.

The subclass 491 visa may be granted either onshore or outside Australia.

Introduction of a new Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) subclass 494 visa

Also commencing from 16 November 2019 is a new Subclass 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa, replacing the existing Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme subclass 187 visa (which will close to new applicants from this date). This new employer sponsored visa is designed to assist employers in regional Australia to employ skilled overseas workers and will consist of two visa streams, namely, an employer sponsored and labour agreement stream.

Eligible family members may also apply as visa dependents.

Employers seeking to sponsor overseas workers under this programme in the employer sponsored stream will be required to:

  • Demonstrate that the nominated position is genuine, full-time and likely to exist for 5 years;
  • Show that the Annual Market Salary Rate (AMSR) is at least equal to or greater than the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) (which is currently set at $53,900);
  • The nominated annual earnings must not be less than the AMSR, and must be equal to or greater than the TSMIT;
  • An independent body (yet to be declared) must confirm that the nominee will be paid at least the AMSR;
  • A Skilling Australian Fund (SAF) levy will apply ($3,000 where business turnover is less than $10 million, and $5,000 payable for businesses with a turnover above this threshold); and
  • Terms and conditions of employment for nominated overseas workers must be no less favourable than for Australian employees.

Employers sponsoring workers under this visa programme will be subject to the Sponsorship provisions of the Migration Act and Regulations. These include sponsorship obligations which aim to protect sponsored overseas workers and local employees, as well as maintaining the integrity of the migration programme.

Overseas workers who are being sponsored under the employer sponsored stream will be subject to the following requirements:

  • Be aged under 45 at time of application;
  • Have a skills assessment for a skilled occupation on the relevant Skilled Occupation List;
  • Have a minimum of three years employment experience in the nominated occupation (on a full-time basis and at the skill required for the occupation); and
  • Have a minimum level of Competent English (exceptions may apply).

Health and character criteria will also apply (including to visa dependents).

Subclass 494 visa holders will have a maximum of 90 days to find a new employer if they cease employment in the nominated position.

Subclass 494 visa holders will also be subject to condition 8579, which requires them to live, work and study only in a part of Australia that is a designated regional area at the time the nomination is made (see below for further details about this visa condition).

This new temporary visa will have a term of 5 years.

Applications may be lodged onshore or outside Australia. To apply in Australia, the applicant must hold either a substantive visa, or a Bridging A, B or C Visa.

The subclass 494 visa may be granted either onshore or offshore.

Introduction of a new Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional) subclass 191 visa

From 16 November 2022, a new Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional) subclass 191 visa will be introduced. This new permanent residence visa will be available to applicants who hold a subclass 491 or subclass 494 visa and who have done so for at least 3 years. Among the eligibility requirements to qualify for this visa, applicants will be required to meet a minimum taxable income threshold for 3 years as the holder of the subclass 491 or 494 visa (this threshold is yet to be announced). Applicants must also have substantially complied with the conditions of their 491 or 494 visa and in particular, condition 8579, which requires the regional visa holder to live, work and study in a designated regional area of Australia (see below for further details about this visa condition). Health and character criteria will also apply (including to visa dependents).

Eligible family members may also apply as visa dependents.

This new permanent residence visa will allow the visa holder to travel to and enter Australia for a period of 5 years from the visa grant date.

Applications may be lodged onshore or outside Australia. A subclass 191 visa may be granted either onshore or offshore.

Changes to the points test to be introduced

Commencing from 16 November 2019, points will be awarded for the following:

  • 15 points for nomination by a State or Territory government agency or sponsorship by a family member residing in regional Australia, to live and work in regional Australia;
  • 10 points for a skilled spouse or de facto partner;
  • 10 points for certain Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) qualifications;
  • 5 points will be awarded where an applicant’s spouse or de facto partner has a minimum level of Competent English; and
  • 10 points will be awarded to applicants without a spouse or de facto partner.

Changes to the points test will affect all points-tested skilled visa subclasses, as outlined below:

  • Skilled (Independent) subclass 189 visa;
  • Skilled (Nominated) subclass 190 visa; and
  • The new Work Regional (Provisional) subclass 491 visa.

The new points test will also apply to Skilled Regional (Provisional) subclass 489 visa applicants who, as of 16 November 2019, have a lodged but as yet undecided application.

New order of ranking for invitations

Invitations to apply for points-tested visas will be issued based on the following order of priority (if all other points claims are equal):

Priority Level 1

  • Primary applicants with a skilled spouse or de facto partner
  • Primary applicants without a spouse or de facto partner

The above are ranked equally.

Priority Level 2

  • Primary applicants with a spouse or de facto partner who can demonstrate Competent English, but who does not have the skills for skilled partner points (age and skills)

Priority Level 3

  • Primary applicants who have a partner who is not eligible for either Competent English or Skilled partner points. These applicants will be ranked below all other priority levels where all other points scores are equal.

Designated regional areas

Subclass 491 and 491 visa holders will be subject to condition 8579, which requires them to live, work and, where applicable, study, in a designated regional area of Australia. Visa holders will be able to move between designated regional areas. Non-compliance with this visa condition can result in the visa being cancelled.

It is intended that any area excluding Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Perth will be designated as a regional area. Regional visa holders can live in any designated regional area and can also move between designated regional areas.

Restrictions on applying for certain visas

Individuals who hold, or whose last substantive visa held was a subclass 491 or 494 visa, will not be eligible to apply for the following visa subclasses, unless they have complied with condition 8579, for at least 3 years (except where exceptional circumstances exist):

  • Distinguished Talent Subclass 124/858 visa;
  • Business Talent Subclass 132 visa;
  • Employer Nomination Scheme subclass 186 visa;
  • Business Innovation and Investment subclass 188 visa;
  • Skilled (Independent) Subclass 189 visa;
  • Skilled (Nominated) Subclass 190 visa; and
  • Partner (Temporary) Subclass 820 visa.

This restriction aims to prevent individuals who are granted a temporary regional visa on the basis of agreeing to comply with condition 8579 avoiding this commitment by seeking to apply for another type of visa which is not subject to this condition.

What happens to the existing Skilled Regional (Provisional) subclass 489 visa?

The current Skilled Regional (Provisional) subclass 489 visa will remain open to new applications lodged before 16 November 2019. Skilled Regional (Provisional) subclass 489 visa holders will also continue to have access to the permanent residence Skilled (Regional) subclass 887 visa pathway.

From 16 November 2019, only applications in the Second Provisional Visa stream can be lodged.

What happens to the existing Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme subclass 187 visa?

The current Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme subclass 187 visa will remain open to new applications lodged before 16 November 2019. Transitional arrangements will apply to existing Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) subclass 482 and Temporary Work (Skilled) subclass 457 visa holders to apply for permanent residence under the Temporary Residence Transition Stream (TRTS).

Australia’s migrations laws are complex, and each case is different. We recommend that you seek professional advice before you proceed with applying for a skilled visa, as being fully informed about the process and requirements that apply will give you the best chance of achieving a successful outcome on your application, and thus lessen the chance that it will be refused. A migration professional can help you to do this.

For up to date advice on these changes to the skilled regional visa programme, and all other skilled visas, book your confidential consultation with a migration agent in Adelaide. PAX Migration Australia is a leading immigration advice service based in Adelaide.