On 2 July 2019 the Houses of Parliament passed the Migration Amendment (New Skilled Regional visas) Regulations 2019, which introduced a new skilled work visa Subclass 491, which will replace the previous subclass 489 visa.
The following is intended to provide a full but succinct overview of the new visa and what it means for potential applicants.
Who is the visa for?
This visa replaces the Subclass 489 Skilled Regional (Provisional) visa. It is for skilled workers who want to live and work in Regional Australia.
Like the 489 visa, the 491 visa permits applicants to bring their families.
What is ‘regional Australia’?
Regional Australia is any part of Australia that the Government determines to be a ‘designated regional area’.
For the purposes of the 491 visa, the designated regional areas are any part of Australia except for Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
This means that any part of South Australia, Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania are designated regional areas.
This new definition has changed from the definition under the 489 visa. Newcastle, Wollongong and the Gold Coast are now designated regional areas.
When is it active from?
Applications for the 419 visa began on 16 November 2019.
How do you apply?
Like the 489 visa, the 491 visa is ‘points-tested’. There are two ‘streams’ for applicants, who must be:
- Nominated by an Australian State or Territory Government agency, or;
- Sponsored by an eligible family member residing in a ‘designated regional area’, and then invited to apply for the visa by first submitting an Expression of Interest (‘EOI’).
What are the eligibility requirements?
Applicants must, as a minimum:
- Have a relevant occupation on the skilled occupation list, and have a suitable skills assessment for the said occupation;
- Be under 45 years of age;
- Have at least three years work experience in the occupation under which they are applying;
- Have a valid skill assessment;
- Demonstrate competent English; and
- Meet the ‘public interest’ criteria, which includes health and character requirements.
Applicants who meet the criteria must submit an expression of interest through SkillSelect, satisfy a ‘points test’ and be nominated.
Further changes to the ‘points testing’ methodology make it easier for some applicants to apply. The changes are:
- 15 points if you are nominated by a State or Territory Government agency or sponsored by a family member residing in Regional Australia;
- 10 points if your spouse or partner is skilled (that is, if they obtain a positive skill assessment in a job on the same shortage list as the applicant and have competent English);
- 10 points for designated Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) qualifications;
- 5 points for a spouse or de facto partner with ‘competent English’; and
- 10 points for applicants without a spouse or de facto partner.
Applicants who fulfil the above criteria may be invited to apply for a 491 visa.
Applicants will be invited in priority order by their score on the points test. Where there are multiple applicants who have the same amount of points, applicants will be invited to apply by way of a priority ranking. The rankings in order of priority are:
- Applicant with a skilled partner (see above) OR applicants with no partner;
- Applicant with a partner who can demonstrate competent English but does not meet the requirements for skilled partner points;
- Applicant with a partner who is ineligible for either competent English or skilled partner points.
What does the visa permit?
The 491 visa allows applicants to live and work in Regional Australia alongside their families for an initial period of five years.
Visa holders are not locked to a location and can move between regional areas, but if a 491 visa is employer sponsored then the applicant can only work in the nominated position.
The 491 visa is a potential pathway to permanent residency.
491 visa holders will be eligible to apply for a Permanent Resident visa after holding a 491 visa for three years, via the new 191 visa permanent residency pathway.
However, the most notable change from previous Permanent Residency visas is that the 191 visa imposes a minimum taxable income requirement.
The exact minimum income requirement will be revealed in full detail once applications open for the visa on 16 November 2019, but preliminary indications are that the required income will be $53,900 annually for three years.
The three year-category is an aggregate over the total five year period of the 491 visa. It does not need to be consecutive, which means that applicants do not need to be earning income the entire period of the 491 visa and can take time off for circumstances that require it, such as injury or illness.
Compared to previous permanent residency pathways, this requirement presents the most obvious barrier to potential applicants.
If an applicant has a partner included in the 491 visa application, only one of the applicant or partner needs to fulfil the minimum income requirement. Note that a partner can be the main applicant for the 191 visa if they meet this requirement
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