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Forthcoming Changes to Skilled Regional Visas

ImmigrationEarlier this year, the Migration Amendment (New Skilled Regional Visas) Regulations (‘Regulations’) 2019 was enacted. From 16 November 2019, the Regulations will introduce two new provisional visas aimed at assisting regional Australia and a permanent visa pathway that will be available from November 2022. The Regulations will further introduce changes to the points test, awarding a greater number of points to those whose skills will make the greatest economic contribution.

Introduction of New Regional Provisional visas

The aim of the skilled migration program is to maximise the benefits of skilled entrants to the Australian economy and to stimulate regional areas. The regional provisional visas will be valid for five years.

Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa subclass 491

The subclass 491 visa will supersede the existing Skilled Regional (Provisional) subclass 489 visa. This is a points tested visa and will similarly require applicants to be nominated by a State or Territory government agency, or to be sponsored by an eligible family member residing in a designated regional area. To be eligible, applicants must not have turned 45 years of age at the time of their invitation to apply and must nominate an occupation on the prescribed list and have had their skills successfully assessed by the relevant assessing authority for their occupation.

The Department of Home Affairs has allocated 14,000 places per annum to this visa subclass.

Skilled Employer Work Regional (Provisional) visa subclass 494

The subclass 494 visa is a new and enhanced employer-sponsored visa intended to assist regional Australia within both the employer sponsored and labour agreement streams. The introduction of the subclass 494 visa will supersede the current Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visa under subclass 187. It will require the applicant to obtain sponsorship from an employer and the position must be likely to exist for five years. To be eligible, applicants must be under 45 years of age, have competent English, their position must be on the prescribed list and they must be paid market salary rates. Further, the applicant must have undertaken the suitable skills assessment and have at least three years’ skilled experience in their nominated occupation, unless exempt.

The Department of Home Affairs has allocated 9,000 places per annum to this visa subclass.

Conditions on Provisional Visas

Conditions will be imposed on the above visas which will enforce the government’s intentions that visa holders live, work and study only in regional areas (condition 8579) and if employer sponsored, only in the nominated position for the duration of their provisional visa.

Introduction of New Regional Permanent residency pathway

The related permanent residency visa will be introduced from November 2022. Applicants will be required to have held either a subclass 491 or 494 for at least three years and have complied with their visa conditions and the income requirement must have been met for three out of the five years.  The income requirement is the minimum taxable income that an applicant must have earned for three of the five years whilst being on the temporary visa. This amount will be determined by the Department of Home Affairs and is yet to be confirmed. It is anticipated that the income threshold will be released closer to the introduction of the permanent residency visas in 2022.

Skilled Visa Points Test 

The amendments introduce a revised points system for the Skilled Migration visas. The Regulations will take effect from 16 November 2019, except for changes to the points test that apply to existing applications, but only insofar that it is beneficial for the applicant by providing additional points.

The changes to the points test are to introduce:

  • additional points for having a skilled spouse or de facto partner (10 points);
  • more points for applicants nominated by a State or Territory government or sponsored by a family member residing in regional Australia (15 points);
  • more points for having certain science, technology, engineering and mathematics (‘STEM’) qualifications (10 points);
  • additional points for applicants who do not have a spouse or de facto partner (10 points); and
  • additional points for applicants with a spouse or de facto partner who has competent English (5 points).

Where all other points claims are equal, invitations to apply for points tested visas will be ranked by the Migration Points Test as described below:

  • First – primary applicants with a skilled spouse or de facto partner;
  • Equal First – primary applicants without a spouse or de facto partner;
  • Second – primary applicants with a spouse or de facto partner who can demonstrate competent English but does not have the skills for skilled partner points (age and skills); then
  • Third – primary applicants with a partner who is ineligible for either competent English or Skilled partner points. These applicants will be ranked below all other cohorts, if all other points claims are equal.

The new ranking regime seeks to reward applicants with skilled partners or no partners and allocates those applicants with unskilled partners at the lowest level of priority. This is due to concerns that many unskilled immigrants are ‘piggy backing’ onto their skilled partner’s applications.

Visa Conditions

The purpose of the regional visa is to promote economic development in regional communities. Accordingly, holders of the new regional provisional visas will be subject to visa condition 8579, requiring the visa holder to live, work and study in regional Australia. If a visa holder chooses not to reside in regional Australia, this may result in cancellation of their visa.

The amendment also limits regional provisional visa holders from being granted any permanent skilled migration visa unless they have held their regional provisional visa for at least three years.

Designated Regional Areas

At the commencement of the new regional provisional visas it is intended that the designated regional areas will include all of Australia except for Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Unlike the existing regime, the regions of Newcastle, Wollongong and the NSW Central Coast will be designated regional areas.

Marino Law is highly experienced in all aspects of migration law and can provide assistance for any matters relating to your visa or potential visa pathways. If you are unsure how these new changes may affect you, or if you need help with calculating your points tests and would like further advice regarding the visa application process, our team can assist you. Please do not hesitate to contact Marino Law to organise a consultation.

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