Skilled visa for Australia

Will changes to regional skilled visa pathway affect me?

John McQuaid answers your immigration questions.

John McQuaid answers your immigration questions.

Hi John, I’m sponsored on a temporary 482 visa working for my employer in Dubbo western NSW. I’m eligible to be nominated for permanent residency in December this year but now I’ve heard the permanent 187 visa is being closed in November. Is this true? What can I do? Jarleth T

Dear Jarleth, Yes, in early April, Immigration announced a number of changes to the Regional Skilled visa program.

‘Regional’ for the most part means any area in Australia outside Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. As part of the changes the Regional Sponsored Migration Stream (RSMS) 187 visa path will close on November 16, 2019. However, there are transitional arrangements or exemptions for anyone who holds or applied for a 482 visa on or before March 20, 2019.

If the above dates apply to you, you will still be able to apply for the 187 visas after November. The exemptions will also apply to anyone who holds or applied for the old 457 visas on or before April 17, 2017. You could also consider whether you can meet the requirements to apply for the 187 earlier via the Direct Entry Stream. This option does not require you to have worked for the employer on the 482/457 visa but may require you to first obtain a migration skills assessment that can be expensive and time consuming to get. See

The 186 Employer Nomination Scheme permanent visa may also be an option. This has different requirements for the employer and a small nomination application fee.

The new regional visa options will begin on November 16, 2019. Two new temporary visas are the 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored and the 491 Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa.

Both will offer a pathway to the new permanent 191 visa but only after three years on the temporary visa. The employer sponsorship process for the 494 visas will operate a bit like the current 482 visas but the 494 will be a five-year visa and all occupations will have a pathway to the permanent 191 visas. More occupations will be added but these are yet to be announced.

The points tested temporary 491 skilled visa will require nomination by a state government or a family relative living in a designated regional area.

Additional points will be available that might make the option more attractive in this competitive arena. Additional points include: 15 points for state or family sponsorship; 10 points for a skilled partner; 5 points for a partner with competent English, and 10 points for applicants without a partner.

Both these temporary visas will cost $3,755 for the primary applicant, the same fees as a current PR application, but then the 191 PR application three years later will be a mere $385.

Additional fees will apply for each family member: $1,875 for partners and $940 for children.

So, while the initial fees are high, the overall cost of the 494 to 191 visas compared to the current 482 to 187/186 visa will be much lower.

When the new visas start 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 may live in any designated regional area and can move between designated regional areas. The myriad changes to visa rules this year are complex.

Consider asking a registered migration agent for help with assessment of your eligibility.

John McQuaid is an Irish-born registered migration agent. Send him your questions here.

Skilled migrants facing tougher path to residency

Australia’s political leaders are nervous about immigration levels.

Australia’s political leaders are nervous about immigration levels.

Skilled workers looking to get sponsored by Australian companies face a more treacherous path to permanent residency no matter who gets elected this weekend.

Both Labor and the Coalition are promising further restrictions to temporary skilled visa holders and stricter rules for businesses looking to sponsor foreign workers.

Labor are under pressure from the union movement to protect Aussie jobs. The coalition has linked congestion problems in Australia’s biggest cities to high immigration numbers.

Labor has pledged to increase the minimum pay rate for foreign workers on skilled visas from $53,900 to $65,000 “to ensure it is not cheaper to bring in an overseas worker than pay a local worker.”

Immigration expert John McQuaid said this measure would hit workers in the hospitality industry hardest.

He said: “Unsurprisingly, the parties are not pandering to those on temporary visas because they can’t vote.

“With the raising of income on 457-styles visa, areas like hospitality and the service industry would be hurt most because they’ve been historically lower paid.  Café and restaurant staff and managers will find it tougher to get sponsored if this happens.”

The number of Irish workers applying for skilled visas in Australia is falling.

The number of Irish workers applying for skilled visas in Australia is falling.

A tightening of immigration rules and the ending of the 457 visa programme last year has made it more difficult for skilled workers to get sponsored by employers.

Figures from the Department of Home Affairs show 1,470 primary applications for a skilled visa were granted to Irish people up to June 30, 2018.

This was a 22 per cent fall on the previous year when 1,900 Irish people were granted a skilled visa.

The coalition government introduced Labor Market Testing to ensure Australians are always given priority for local jobs.  Employers can only bring in overseas workers if they can not find a suitable local candidate.

Businesses who hire a foreign worker must also pay upwards of $1,200 into a training fund for Australian workers.

If elected, Labor says it will clampdown on employers who “artificially inflate salaries” by offering foreign workers substandard accommodation and inflated overtime hours.

It also plans to “restrict temporary work visas to jobs where there is a genuine skills shortage” and to introduce what it calls the Australian Jobs Test to prevent labour agreements from being entered into unless they create jobs for local workers.

It will also crack down on “unqualified temporary workers” with mandatory off-shore testing of foreign workers skills before a visa can be issued.

Extra funds will be used to increase workplace inspections and investigate employers who breach work visa regulations.

Would-be migrants prepared to live and work in rural areas for three years have a more linear path towards permanent residency.

Would-be migrants prepared to live and work in rural areas for three years have a more linear path towards permanent residency.

While these measures will make it more challenging to get sponsored, a new regional visa programme offers new opportunities for Irish people willing to move to rural areas.

Unveiled by the Liberal government in March, the new scheme offers 23,000 visas for skilled workers who are willing to live and work in regional Australia.

After three years of regional work, visa holders can apply for permanent residency.

Skilled migrants will be priority processed and can access a larger pool of jobs on the eligible occupation lists compared to those who live in major cities.

John McQuaid said the regional visas, which will be available from November 2019, offer new opportunities for Irish people who are willing to look beyond the big cities.

“There’s going to be additional occupations on the list for people willing to apply for regional visas. It will open up options for some people who previously didn’t qualify,” he explained.

“It could also be an attractive option for Irish people who grew up in rural Ireland who are much more at home in rural Australia than in the big cities and there’s plenty of promise in regional locations.”

While the regional visas offer a possible new pathway in, the Liberals have reduced the permanent migration cap by 15 per cent from 190,000 to 160,000 for the next four years.

Labor also believes an intake of 160,000 permanent migrants each year is “about right”.

Scott Morrison also hopes to attract more students to study in regional Australia with $15,000 scholarships being offered to 1,000 domestic and international students.

International students who study at regional universities can apply for an additional year in Australia on a post-study work visa.

Doubts cast on Morrison government's 'bush visas' plan

Australia’s skilled immigration system is facing another shake-up.

Australia’s skilled immigration system is facing another shake-up.

Doubt has been cast on whether the Morrison government’s plan to compel large numbers of would-be skilled migrants to regional areas will work.

Under new plans aimed at easing congestion in the major cities released on March 19, as many as 9,000 skilled migrants each year will have to live and work in rural or regional parts of Australia for a period of three years if they want to apply for permanent residency.

These designated areas essentially includes everywhere except Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and south-east Queensland but does include the cities of Adelaide, Darwin, Hobart and Newcastle.

The new Skilled Regional Provisional visas, along with other incentives such as priority processing, will enhance opportunities for regional Australia, the government says. 

“They will enable regional businesses to fill vacant jobs faster and encourage skilled migrants and their families to settle and remain in regional areas,” the announcement said. “There will be greater incentives for regional employers to nominate skilled workers, including access to additional regional occupations and priority processing of regional visa applications.’

“We’re only talking about people going into places where there are jobs and opportunities,” the Prime Minister said at a press conference in Canberra announcing the plan. “We have a lot of shires around the country saying to us ‘we want people’.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants more skilled immigrants to live and work in regional Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants more skilled immigrants to live and work in regional Australia.

But immigration experts have claimed that demand for existing regional visas is actually falling and have cast doubt on the PM’s claims just months before an anticipated federal election in May.

One migration agent said the new ‘three years in the bush’ provision would “be a turn-off for many”.

“A larger number of the visas available will require migrants to first take a provisional visa to live in a regional area and then, after proving they have lived there for three years have the opportunity to apply for permanent residence,” he said. “This will suit some but will be a major turn-off for many.”

Minister for Immigration David Coleman said permanent residency would be the carrot for new migrants to ‘go bush’.

“For people who emigrate to Australia, permanent residency is at the top of their priority list,” he said.

“It means that you can stay in the country and plan your future in this nation. So by linking the requirement that a person stays in a regional area for three years to their permanent residency, we will see a very, very high level of compliance with that requirement.”

Minister Coleman said if applicants did not comply “they won't get permanent residency and they will not be allowed to settle in Australia”.

Millions of dollars have been allocated to monitor compliance within the scheme. After three years applicants must prove they have lived and worked in the regions but Prime Minister Morrison played down fears of a ‘big brother’ approach by his government.

[If applicants do not stay in regional areas for three years] they won’t get permanent residency and they will not be allowed to settle in Australia
— Minister for Immigration David Coleman

“There is a strong self-assessment process to this because people need to demonstrate where they have been. Through people’s own records, where their addresses have been and where their power bills are, their employment records, their tax file numbers - all these sorts of things - we have a pretty reasonable understanding of where people have been and where they've been living.

“[But] the suggestion of some sort of walking the beat enforcement arrangement here is obviously ridiculous.”

The Irish Echo has confirmed however that if applicants for the Skilled Regional Provisional visas are made redundant during the qualification period, it will be up to them to find another job or their dreams of residency may vanish.

The latest statistics show that demand for regional visas (the current 187 employer sponsored visa) has actually fallen from 10,198 places in 2016/17 to 6221 places in 2017/18, a 39 per cent drop.

Australian visa slump slammed by business groups

Australia is making it harder for skilled migrants to get permanent residency.

Australia is making it harder for skilled migrants to get permanent residency.

Migration to Australia has been slashed to its lowest level in more than a decade after the federal government put tough new hurdles in place.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has claimed that the fall in numbers was a consequence of the government meticulously going through applications to weed out unsuitable claims.

“We’re making sure that people who do become part of our Australian family are coming here to work, not to lead a life on welfare,” Mr Dutton said.

But business lobby groups, migration agents and representatives of ethnic groups have criticised the cuts, warning of economic damage if the numbers are allowed to fall further. 

Groups representing more than 60,000 Australian businesses have criticised the Turnbull government’s cuts to skilled and family migration.

Australia took in 20,000 fewer permanent migrants than in the previous financial year, mostly becasue of a 12,000 drop in skilled visas and an 8,000 drop in family visas.

The Australian Industry Group, one of the nation’s leading business groups, said the cut was disappointing.

“We are strong supporters of the migration program and to see it drop so significantly below the 2017-18 intake ceiling is disappointing,” AIG’s chief executive, Innes Willox, said.

Mr Willox said it was to the government’s credit that skilled visas still made up the same percentage of the intake, at about 68 per cent.

However, he encouraged the government to “get closer to reaching the ceiling” of 190,000 places this financial year. The official cap is still set at 190,000, despite real numbers falling short this year.

“Skilled migrants generate the greatest economic benefits to the Australian community, through their direct contributions to our national employment and skills base,” Mr Willox said. “Many also bring specialist attributes that provide even bigger benefits, by deepening our entrepreneurship, innovation and international linkages.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry blasted the cuts, arguing employers were paying the political price for the government’s failure to keep up with infrastructure demands in growing cities. 

“This is a real crisis,” the chamber’s CEO James Pearson said. 

“This is a problem right now, particularly for regional businesses serving regional communities. Politicians have failed to plan properly for the population growth in Sydney and Melbourne and regional Australia is now paying the price because of this cutback in our skilled migration by stealth.”

Both sides of politics have praised the lower numbers with Labor leader Bill Shorten vowing to clamp down on the number of temporary work visas. 

“No temporary visa worker should be here for a day longer than it takes to train an Australian,” Mr Shorten told the Australian Financial Review.

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