The 2019 Australian federal election saw immigration once again thrust into the political spotlight. In this edition, we provide a handy summary of key policy issues to watch out for, now that the Coalition has been returned to government. These include the cuts to permanent migration, the introduction of new regional visas and temporary sponsored parent visas, as well as the upcoming rollout of the sponsorship framework for partner visas. As always, we provide useful tips to help you better understand the practical impact of these developments on businesses, visa holders and applicants.
For a deeper dive into the issues, make sure to browse and bookmark our Newsflash page, where we update our readers with the most important news as it happens.
Linda McCreath Principal Lawyer & Managing Director Abacus Visa Immigration Lawyers MARN: 0104387
Permanent migration to be cut, even as number of temporary visa holders soars
Prior to the election, the government had announced that theannual cap on permanent visas will be cut to 160,000 for the next four years. This will now likely go ahead. It should be noted that the reduction largely reflects what is already happening in migration intake, where tightened visa restrictions led to 162,000 immigrants being granted permanent visas last year – the lowest level in a decade. At the same time, the number of people on temporary visas, study visas and bridging visas continues to balloon.
While reduced migration is already severely impacting skilled permanent visas, the introduction of new regional visas offer opportunities for those still looking to live and work in Australia.
The government has so far made no mention of increasing the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) (ie. the minimum pay rate for overseas workers on temporary work visas), which has remained at $53,900 since 2013.
New visas prioritise skilled workers in regional Australia
Earlier this year, the Australian government announced that 23,000 of the160,000 permanent migration spots for 2019/20 will be reserved for skilled workers in regional Australia (ie. all of Australia except for Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast). The visas would require people to work for 3 years in regional Australia before they can apply for permanent residency, and will commence from 16 November 2019.
Three new regional visas have been introduced – two provisional visas, and one permanent residence visa.
New visa commencing on 16 November 2019
No. of places
Subclass 491 Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa
Subclass 489 (Skilled – Regional (Provisional) visa
Subclass 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa
Subclass 187 (Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme) visa
The new Subclass 191 (Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional)) visa will be available for those who hold a Subclass 491 or a Subclass 494 visa at the time of application from 16 November 2022.
New opportunities for regional migrants. Given the wide definition of ‘regional Australia’, the new visas should provide opportunities to potential visa applicants willing to live and work outside of major metropolitan areas. Notably, the definition captures the entire states and territory of South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, as well as growing regional hubs such as Newcastle, Wollongong and the Central Coast of NSW. However, aspiring migrants should also be aware of the unique challenges of each regional area, including the nature of the job market and living costs.
Revised points system favours single, skilled and English-speaking visa applicants. New regulations mean extra points will be given to applicants nominated by a State or Territory to live and work in regional Australia, applicants holding certain STEM qualifications, applicants without a spouse or partner, and applicants with spouses or partners who are skilled and/or have competent English. Those who fit in one or more of these categories will generally have a better chance of successfully obtaining a skilled work visa.
New regionals visas offer alternative to existing Skilled Independent and Nominated visas. In recent years, Skilled Independent (Subclass 189) and Skilled Nominated (Subclass 190) visas have become increasingly difficult to obtain. With the upcoming permanent migration cut to hit these categories of visas the most, potential visa applicants should consider taking advantage of the new regional visas as a more viable pathway to permanent residency.
State policies and regulations will be key. In the next few weeks and months, it will be worth keeping an eye on the different States and Territories for more specific occupation and skills requirements in relation to the new regional visas. Under the State/Territory sponsored stream of the new Subclass 491 visa, applicants will need to be nominated by the State or Territory before being able to apply for the visa.
International students to benefit. With the 2-year work experience requirement and restrictions on permanent residency associated with the Temporary Skill Shortage (Subclass 482) visa making it more difficult for skilled overseas graduates to stay in Australia, the new visas make studying and working in regional areas more attractive to students.
Temporary Sponsored Parent visa good news for those who can afford it
Rollout of the new Temporary Sponsored Parent visa (Subclass 870) (or TSPV) began in April, giving many families the opportunity to reunite with overseas relatives. The TSPV allows parents of Australian citizens, permanent residents or eligible New Zealand citizens to stay in Australia for up to 5 years at a time, with the possibility of extending for another 5 years.To be eligible for the visa, a parent must be the biological, adoptive, or step-parent of the sponsor.
There are two stages to applying:
Visa application, expected to open from 1 July 2019
Only until a sponsorship application has been approved can a sponsored parent apply for a TSPV. Sponsored parents must also have genuine access to funds sufficient to meet the costs and expenses of their intended stay in Australia, as well as satisfy health, character, and national security requirements.
The costs involved include:
3 year visa
5 year visa
10 year visa (ie. 5 year extension)
Our Newsflash contains more in-depth details on the requirements for sponsoring parents on this new visa.
While welcomed as an alternative to an extremely backlogged parent visa system, the new visa has also been criticised for what some view as exorbitant fees.
Tips and tricks
Good alternative to existing visas. The TSPV is a solid option for those who want to reunite their families in Australia for a significant period of time. Existing permanent parent visas may not be appropriate for overseas parents due to several reasons including costs, the lack of desire for a permanent visa and long processing times. The new TSPV also provides an alternative to Visitor visas, which only allow shorter periods of stay.
Understand your obligations. Parent sponsors are required to meet certain sponsorship obligations for the life of the visa and beyond, in some cases. These include providing financial support, keeping records such as evidence of income, and informing the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) when certain events occur. As failing to comply may mean cancellation of an existing sponsorship, sponsors and visa applicants should consult with an immigration specialist to ensure they are aware of and can meet those obligations.
New sponsorship process and obligations coming soon for partner visas
Due to concerns about power imbalances between newly arrived visa applicants and their sponsors, significant changes will be made to the partner visa application process. Specifically, the new sponsorship framework currently only applicable to Temporary Sponsored Parent Visas will be expanded to partner visas in the near future. Amongst other things, the sponsorship framework:
requires the assessment and approval of sponsors (separate to the visa application process);
requires the approval of persons as family sponsors before any relevant visa applications are made;
imposes statutory obligations on sponsors;
provides for civil penalties and administrative sanctions for breaches of sponsorship obligations;
bars sponsors where serious offences are detected – especially those involving family violence; and
facilitates the sharing of information between relevant parties.
Sponsors will be responsible for meeting the prescribed medical, hospital, aged care or other health related expenses incurred by a visa holder or a former visa holder.
Tips and tricks
Lodge your partner visa application as soon as possible. As of the time of writing, there is no set date for when the new sponsorship framework will be expanded to include partner visas. If you meet the criteria and are looking to lodge a partner visa onshore, you should consider doing so now in order to avoid being caught by these changes.
Requiring sponsors to be approved first will impact visa applicants significantly. Since sponsors must be approved before visa applicants can proceed with their applications, difficulties might arise if the time it takes to process sponsor applications exceeds the time available to visa applicants staying in Australia on short term visitor visas. Eg. If you are a current visa holder in Australia looking to apply for a partner visa, it is possible you may need to leave the country when your visa expires if your partner’s sponsorship application has not yet been approved. It is unclear at this stage how long the approval process for sponsorship will take.
A must-read for employers: Our useful guide to the Skilling Australians Fund and the nomination contribution charge
In case you missed it: New occupation lists were released, effective from 11 March 2019
Backpackers on working holiday visas will soon be able to apply to stay for a third year (as opposed to the current maximum of two years), as long as they complete six months of work in regional Australia.
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