491 and 494 visas: 2,000 more regional visas; regional areas defined; extra year for graduates clarified

In a joint media release with numerous ministers, the Prime Minister announced today that due to higher demand for regional visas, there will be an additional 2,000 places this program year for the Subclass 491 – Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) and the Subclass 494 – Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa. And after much wrangling, the definition of what is a regional and non-regional area will split into three categories: Major cities, Cities and major regional centres, and Regional centres and all other locations. Incentives, or rather perks, for each area are listed as well as clarifying the additional year (and years) for international student graduates wanting to stay further in Australia on a Subclass 485 - Temporary Graduate visa.

An additional 2,000 regional visas

Due to a 124 per cent increase in the number of regional visas granted, the total number of places for the program year will increase by 2,000 to 25,000. While this is not unexpected, just how regional places are defined is not clear.

Why this increase in demand is not surprising is due to the closure of the permanent Subclass 187 - Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visa and the Subclass 489 - Skilled - Regional (Provisional) visa. No doubt the Department of Home Affairs is aware that any prior announcement of the closure of a visa subclass generally results in a rush of applications, especially when the replacing visas make the goal of a permanent visa a little harder. It is perhaps why the abolition of Subclass 457 - Temporary Work (Skilled) visas was sprung on the unsuspecting public in March 2017 with fallout following soon after.

A prediction will be that the number of lodgements for 489 and particularly 187 visas will accelerate towards the 15 November 2019 closure date. This is because the way the new regional visas have been designed will require living and working in a designated regional area for at least 3 years, which is an increase from 2 years for 489 visa holders looking to apply for a Subclass 887 - Skilled – Regional visa. A bigger reason is that 187 visas are permanent visas while 494 visas will require the same 3-year living and work requirements as the 491 visa. This was envisaged a long time ago. The net result is that more time is necessary to hold either a 491 and 494 visas to meet eligibility criteria for the 191 – Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional) visa.

Major cities, Cities and major regional centres, Regional centres and other regional areas

The jostling for what will and what will not be considered a regional area looks to be over. The binary definition of regional/non-regional will change to a ternary definition of Major cities/Cities and major regional centres/Regional centres and other regional areas.

Major cities will be:

  • Sydney

  • Melbourne, and

  • Brisbane.

Cities and major regional centres will be:

  • Perth

  • Adelaide

  • Gold Coast

  • Sunshine Coast Canberra Newcastle/Lake Macquarie

  • Wollongong/Illawarra Geelong, and

  • Hobart

Regional centres and other regional areas will be all other locations.

What is not known, and what can be presumed is that these definitions will be distinguished by postcode and that at least three legislative instruments will be consolidated into one for the definition of what is a designated regional area.

Cities and major regional centres, and Regional centres and other regional areas, will benefit over Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane with incentives, including:

  • Access to the dedicated 25,000 regional places;

  • Priority processing for regional visas;

  • Access to the Regional Occupations List for 482, 494, and General Skilled Migration visas and possibly Subclass 407 – Training visas;

  • An additional year for Subclass 485 - Temporary Graduate visa under the Post-Study Work stream for international students studying at universities in Cities and major regional centres. International graduates who study at a university in Regional centres and other regional areas will have an additional two years for a 485 visa under the Post-Study Work stream.

Regional centres and other regional areas will also have priority when negotiating Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMAs).

What is astounding is that the added years for a 485 visa will not include the Graduate Work stream, which is the stream only available to international graduates who study courses to work in trade occupations. With only 3 per cent of international students studying in regional areas, it would have made sense to add an incentive for vocational students as well. Considering more points are awarded for Australian work experience for General Skilled Migration visas, vocational qualifications are awarded fewer points than higher education qualifications, and that trades are significantly underrepresented in receiving invitations for the Subclass 189 - Skilled – Independent visas and 489 - Skilled - Regional (Provisional) visas sponsored by an eligible relative, tradies need every help they can to compete with professionals.