494 and 491 visas: Access to welfare and government services; making the provisional more permanent

UPDATE: On 25 October 2019, 491 and 494 visa holders were granted eligibility to Medicare.

A report handed down by the Senate Standing Committees on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has recommended a bill be passed that will see holders of the new provisional regional visas, the 491 – Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa and 494 – Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa, granted similar access to welfare payments and government support as holders of permanent visas.

If passed, the New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019 will amend seven Acts, ranging from social and disability services and higher education, to amend the definition of an ‘Australian resident’ to include 491 and 494 visa holders. It will also reduce waiting periods for certain benefits down to when they become the holder of either a 491 or 494 visa and which will not restart once a permanent visa has been granted.

Major highlights to this bill for 491 and 494 visa holders include:

  • entitlements to Commonwealth Supported Places and access to student government loans (FEE-HELP) if undertaking a higher education unit as part of a bridging course; and

  • access to the Fair Entitlements Guarantee which allows employees to make a claim for unpaid entitlements should they lose their job due to liquidation or bankruptcy of their employing business.

What was confirmed by the Department of Home Affairs in the report, was access to Medicare for 491 and 494 visa holders and the ability to purchase property, however, they will “need to apply for and receive foreign investment approval before purchasing residential real estate in Australia”.

On education, what the legislation does not cover is access to social services provided by individual states and territories, such as free and open access to state schools for children who hold 491 and 494 visas. These vary by state and territory and the schools themselves so applicants with children may want to undertake further research if they have any choice in where they can settle.

While these new visas are currently subject to a disallowance motion in the Senate, meaning that if passed 491 and 494 visas will cease to commence, it is doubtful this will occur as the opposition while having their own gripes support these new visas.

The ultimate aim of the bill is to further incentivise skilled migrants to settle in regional areas. Food for thought for the government will be what will constitute a regional area. Submission from universities on the Gold Coast are crying foul that they will miss attracting international students because it has already been floated that the Gold Coast will not be deemed regional as is currently the case for employer sponsored nominations and for extra points for General Skilled Migration visas for studying at educational Institutions in regional and low population growth metropolitan areas.

The bill is currently before the House of Representatives.