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New Skilled Regional Visas, and the closure of the RSMS and 489 Visa.

Nwe RSMS Visa

Two new regional visas associated with the Federal Budget of 2019/20 were rolled out days before the federal election was called. From November 2019, the new regional visa scheme contained in the Migration Amendment (New Skilled Regional Visas) Regulations 2019 will replace the existing subclass 489 and 187 visas. Whether a visa rebranding or a fundamental shift in policy, the rationale behind the new visas is ultimately to stimulate growth in regional Australia, and to encourage people to move outside the main capital cities.

With the closure of RSMS 187 and 489 visas, skilled workers looking to live and work in regional Australia, as well as employers in Regional Australia, should be aware of these changes and plan accordingly.

Changes to Regional Skilled Visas

Here are the key changes to the regional visa scheme from 16 November 2019:

  • Closure of the RSMS program (Subclass 187) and the Subclass 489 visa.
  • Transitional Provisions will apply to certain 457 and 482 visa holders, who will still be able to apply for the Subclass 187 visa.
  • New Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) Visa (subclass 491) will come into effect and replace the subclass 489 visa
  • New Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) Visa (subclass 494), will come into effect and replace the RSMS 187 visa.
  • More occupations available—Visa applicants will have access to more occupations than the equivalent non-regional visas.
  • Visas will be accessible to SHEV (Safe Haven Enterprise Visa) holders
  • More rigorous regional compliance framework
  • New Permanent Visa Pathway –from 16 November 2022, a permanent residency pathway (the Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional) Visa (subclass 191) will become available to holders of the two new regional visas—Subclass 491 and 494.

The Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) Visa (subclass 491)

The new 491 is substantially similar to the 489 it replaces, however, contains the following new features.

Firstly, there is an increase to a 5-year visa duration, as opposed to 4 years under the subclass 489 visa.

Unlike the 489 visa, applicants must also be either nominated by a State or Territory government (now including the ACT) or sponsored by an eligible family member living in regional Australia, however, respective relatives must be usually resident in a designated regional area.

The 491 is also subject to a revised General Skilled Migration points test, with a requirement of 65 points. Applicants will have access to more points when nominated under the Subclass 491 visa. There will also be an increase in points awarded for single applicants and applicants with skilled partners, in recognition of their potential contributions to the Australian economy (e.g 10 points for skilled partner, 5 points where partner has ‘Competent’ English).

Significantly, new conditions are now imposed on all visa holders (not just the primary holder). The most notable is Condition 8579, requiring all visa holders to live, work and study only in a designated regional area for 3 years to become eligible for Permanent Residency. However, applicants will be able to move between designated regional areas.

The government has also announced that these new visas will receive priority processing.

The Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) Visa (subclass 494)

The subclass 494 visa is also 5-year provisional visa, available to applicants who have an employer sponsor in Regional Australia. Unlike the RSMS 187 visa, it is no longer a direct pathway to permanent residency, however, applicants will have access to a more expansive occupation list. While it mirrors some aspects of the RSMS 187 visa, it is more in line with the subclass 482 TSS visa, and similarly involves three stages – a sponsorship, nomination, and visa application.

It features a sponsorship framework similar to the subclass 482 TSS visas. This requires the employer sponsor to be a standard business sponsor or have a labour agreement, where more stringent sponsorship obligations apply.

Prospective visa applicants and employers should note that the nominated positions can only be full-time positions, and likely to exist for at least 5 years. The new visa also stipulates that annual market salary rates must not be less than the Temporary Skilled Migrant Income Threshold (TSMIT) of $53,900. Annual earnings including non-monetary benefits cannot fall under this unless nominated under the Labour Agreement stream. The employer must also obtain certification from a Regional Certifying Body regarding the annual market salary rate.

The significant changes for visa applicants are that they must have at least three years’ full-time relevant work experience in the nominated occupation or a related field, at the same level of skill to be eligible to apply for the 494 visa. They must also have a suitable skills assessment at the time of application unless they previously held or hold a subclass 457 or 482 visas in the nominated occupation.

To be eligible to apply for permanent residency through the Subclass 191 visa, applicants must also be able to show earnings of at least $53,900 for three years.

The Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional) Visa (subclass 191)

This is the new permanent residency pathway for holders of the Subclass 491 and 494 visas that will commence operation from 16 November 2022.

Applicants will be required to hold either the 491 or 494 visas and demonstrate they have complied with all relevant visa conditions; this includes living and working in regional Australia for at least 3 years.

The biggest change here is that applicants do not need to be nominated by an employer to make an application for a 191 visa, unlike the RSMS 187 visa.

What you can do

The transitional cohorts

A transitional arrangement will apply to certain visa holders, who will still have access to the RSMS 187 and 489 visa. As such, current 489 visa holders (or those who lodge a 489 application before 16 November 2019) will continue to have pathways for permanent residency through the subclass 887 visa.

Holders of a Subclass 457 who held or applied for a 457 visa on 18 April 2017 that was subsequently granted will still be able to apply for the RSMS 187 or 489 visa. Similarly, 482 visa holders with a nominated occupation in the medium-term stream who held or applied for a 482 visa on 20 March 2019 that was subsequently granted are also unaffected by the closure of the 187 and 489 visas.

Considering and Tackling the New Changes

The introduction of the new visas broaches some worthwhile considerations for prospective migrants and employers.

Primarily, the operation of the new visas intends to ensure a genuine intention to live, work and study in a designated regional area, and prevent visa holder from relocating to metropolitan centres. ‘Designated Regional Areas’ (DRA) have been simplified and expanded by the Migration Amendment (New Skilled Regional Visas) Regulations 2019 to include all of Australia except for Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast. This, combined with visa conditions like condition 8579 of mandated residence in the DRA (see above), is aimed to facilitate migration in regional Australia.

Supplementing this objective, the new 491 and 494 visas will restrict holders from applying for archetypal ‘PR’ pathway visas, unless they have held the 491 or 493 visas for at least 3 years in a DRA, complying with all the relevant conditions, and excluding exceptional circumstances. Specifically, they are restricted from applying for:

  • Subclass 124/858 – Distinguished Talent
  • Subclass 132 – Business Talent
  • Subclass 188 – Business Innovation and Investment
  • Subclass 189 – Skilled – Independent
  • Subclass 190 – Skilled – Nominated
  • Subclass 820 – Partner (Temporary)

The cumulative goal is to retain and develop talent in regional Australia through the medium to long-term, thereby stimulating economic growth. With the reclassification of regional areas, the visas endeavour to alleviate pressure on metropolitan centres and distribute economic growth outwards.

The 491 and 494 visas both also aim to benefit skilled workers with an increased number of occupations. Under the 491, there are over 500 eligible occupations, whereas the 494 has increased to almost 700 eligible occupations. As the visas are still contingent on employer nominations in regional Australia, it is worth keeping abreast of developments in the regional employment market even with the increased number of occupations.

Both the 491 and 494 visas are subject to priority processing of applications. Whilst this is to be confirmed in the coming months, this provides a great incentive in light of protracted processing times of other visa types.

Finally, when it comes to considering permanent residency options, the visa duration of certain subclasses has often marked a difficult path to permanent residency. With the 491 and 494 visas, whilst this duration is longer, it is arguably a more straightforward pathway.

Working in Australia: which visa is right for you?

Conclusion

It’s time for everyone to be thinking longer-term about regional migration in Australia and how federal government policy changes can influence you. Whether you’re looking to experience what living and working are like in regional Australia, explore permanent residency options, or are a regional employer wanting to learn more about these new visas, feel free to call us and discuss your migration plans and queries with our experienced migration agents and lawyers.