Rolling from 2019 into 2020, Australia is set to experience a range of policy changes that will affect many prospective visa applicants, including international students, skilled workers, business owners, partners and aged parents seeking visas to visit or to permanently migrate to Australia.
Last year marked a series of reforms in various visa categories in Australia’s migration program, some of these are said to be "among the most significant changes" to Australia's immigration system in recent years.
With a look back at the ever-changing visa policies and the launch of two new regional visas, here is what you need to know:
Two new regional visas
Last year, Australia introduced two new set of visas as the Federal Government aims to settle more skilled migrants in regional areas.
Two temporary visas, Skilled Work Regional (subclass 491) Skilled Employer-Sponsored Regional visa (subclass 494) were made available from 19 November 2019.
There are 25,000 visa places reserved for the regional visas within Australia's annual permanent migration planning level of 160,000. The new visas replaced subclass 489 and subclass 187 visas.
Melbourne-based migration agent Navjot Singh Kailay said that it is a ‘huge shift’ as the visa policies are getting more aligned toward regional migration now.
“The Year 2020 is going to be an interesting time for regional migration. This policy change is significantly affecting skilled migrants and international students,” he said.
“More and more people are now moving to regions in desperation to settle permanently. But nothing is guaranteed as the permanent residency is becoming more like a moving target.”
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Mr Kailay said reserving a defined number of visa places for the regions might not translate into all of those visa places being filled up.
“The number of migrants granted permanent residency this year dropped to its lowest level in a decade. I am not saying it is not achievable but it has become way more competitive than what we’ve seen in the past,” he said.
"The Skilled Occupation List is a constantly changing phenomenon. That's why we're seeing an increasing concern from the visa aspirants. At this stage, even 100 points cannot guarantee permanent residency especially to those applicants who nominate a few particular occupations."
State-wise details of Regional Work Visas
All states have now released their criteria for nomination and have given preference to their graduates or migrants already working in regional areas.
Below are the dates when different states opened their nominations for regional work visa arrangements:
Victoria - Applications were opened on 18 November 2019. It is free to lodge a Victorian nomination application.
Western Australia – Invitations for visa subclass 489 started on 21 November 2019.
Tasmania - All state nominated applications opened on 16 November 2019 including Subclass 491 Skilled Regional Work visas. Applications incur a fee of $220.
Queensland - The State Nomination Skilled Program opened on 25 November 2019 for the Subclass 491 Skilled Regional Work and Subclass 190 Skilled Nominated visas.
South Australia - State nomination applications for the Subclass 491 Skilled Regional Work and Subclass 190 opened in the first week of December 2019.
Northern Territory - Applications for Subclass 491 Skilled Regional Work and Subclass 190 Skilled Nominated visas were reopened on 9 December 2019. A nomination fee was applied from that date.
Australian Capital Territory – ACT nominations opened from 16 November 2019. While potential applicants can complete the Home Affairs Skill Select EOI from this date, but the application for Subclass 491 Canberra Matrix can only be submitted from 1 January 2020.
New South Wales – Applications opened in January 2020.
Changes proposed to Skilled Occupation List
Australia’s Skilled Occupation List (SOL) is expected to be updated in March 2020.
The Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business have flagged changes to 38 occupations while reviewing this SOL.
Mr Kailay said that the process is still at an early stage.
“We’re looking at 11 occupations that may be removed and another four that may be up for an addition,” he added. “Additionally, a salary caveat is also expected for at least six occupations.”
Visa for migrant farmworkers
Australian horticulture farmers will now able to sponsor overseas workers to work in their farms from this year.
The new arrangement commencing on January 1, 2020 offers the workers concessions in the English language requirements and minimum salary that a sponsoring employer is required to pay them.
Melbourne migration agent Ranbir Singh said it’s a win-win for both the employer and the employees.
“The government is offering English concessions which means the requirement is really low for these workers and salary concessions make it easier for employers to hire them. But the real motivating factor is that there is a pathway to permanent residency for all the 31 occupations, which I think is a huge draw for the employees to stick to their jobs in the farms,” Mr Singh said.
Overseas workers can be up to 50 years of age and must score at least 5 Bands on IELTS.
The approved occupations include truck drivers, forklift driver, machinery supervisor, mechanic, fitter and welder, nursery person, mechanical engineer, agriculture technician.
Changes to Student Visa - subclass 500
In Australia, student visa applications are assessed based on individual merits that include educational qualifications, financial requirements and proficiency in the English language.
Assessment Levels (ALs) streamline the current visa system, which also dictates the requirements set for a visa application.
The requirements often change based on the immigration risk posed by applicants from particular countries intending to study at particular education providers in Australia.
Mr Kailay said many students from the Indian-sub-continent are now looking for alternatives as getting an entry into the Australian education system has become ‘more difficult’.
“International students from these countries are now in the high-risk category. The assessment level for passport holders of these countries has gone up from Level 2 to Level 3,” he said.
“This means applicants will need to show evidence of their financial capacity & English language as mandatory criteria if they are opting to study from AL2 or AL3 education providers.”
According to the conditions set by the Department of Home Affairs, primary visa applicant now needs to meet travel expenses, living costs and expenses of around AUD 21,000 for a stay for 12 months or more.
Or the applicants can provide evidence of annual income of at least AUD 62,222 of parent, spouse or de facto partner in the 12 months immediately before the application is made.
Changes Student Guardian Visa - Subclass 590
As of this year, for a primary Student Guardian visa approval, applicants are expected to provide evidence of sufficient funds to meet their travel expenses, living costs and expenses of AUD 21,014 if intending to stay for 12 months or more.
Additionally, they also need to meet financial requirements for any secondary Student Guardian applicant, which accounts for about AUD 7,362 and for a dependent child of AUD 3,152.
In the case of school-age dependents, a school fee of AUD 8,296 is further needed if staying for more than 12 months or more.
The primary Student Guardian applicant’s spouse or de facto partner may also show evidence of financial capacity by showing a personal annual income that is at least AUD 72,592.
Mr Kailay said that there is much confusion about the student guardian visas.
“Parents often think it as a way to enter Australia and then file PR based on their children’s eligibility. But it is easier said than done,” he said.
“This visa doesn’t offer any reprieve for low-income earners. The requirement is quite stringent and often the visa process is dependent upon the applicant and the sponsors’ financial capabilities.”
Changes to Parent visa
A new parent visa program was launched last year that allows as many as 15,000 people each year to come to Australia.
The visa policy was introduced after the long campaign by the migrant communities. However, Mr Kailay said it ‘failed’ to fulfil the needs of the families.
“In this year, we expect to see more people opting for this visa or the parent contributory visas as they allow parents to remain in Australia for a longer period of time,” he added.
Mr Kailay said that it is still a temporary visa and it does not provide pathways for permanent residence in Australia.
“The important thing to watch this year would be the capping arrangement. It allows the visa authorities to determine the number of applicants who will get an approval in a given year,” he said.
For the contributory parent visa category cap is set at 6096 places as compared to 7175 allotted in 2018/19.
Partner visas – changes to wait time and visa processing fees
The partner visa lets the de facto partner or spouse of an Australian citizen or permanent resident to stay in Australia.
Mr Kailay said that the process for a partner visa is rather complex and a costly affair.
“Partner visa fees have now been increased to AUD 7715 which makes it one of the costliest visas in the year 2020,” he said.
“The wait time for the approval to partner visa is also expected to rise this year.”
Mr Kailay advises that the applicants should lodge ‘decision-ready’ applications to significantly cut the wait time for approval.
“We’re talking about the world’s costliest partner visa application that comes at a very hefty price. So give it a thorough preparation and enough time before you do the final submission,” he said.
Increase in visa application charges
The department of Home Affairs had announced an increase in Visa Application Charges (VAC) for the applications made on or after 1 July 2019 on most visa subclasses.
The following is a list of visa fees that are applicable in the year 2020:
Fees before July, 2019
General Skilled Migration
Graduate Temporary Subclass 485
Parent (Contributory) first instalment
$340 to $3,855
$365 to $4,155
TSS – STSOL
TSS – MLTSSL
Significant Investor Visa (SIV)
Overall migration trends
There were 536,000 overseas migration arrivals and 297,700 departures during the year ending 30 June 2019, resulting in net overseas migration of 238,300 people.
Around 160,000 visas were granted under the permanent migration program in 2018-19 - that's nearly 30,000 fewer than the annual migration cap of 190,000.
The intake is the lowest since 2008 when 159,000 visas were issued.
Australia's population grew by 1.5 per cent during the year ending 30 June 2019, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The ABS statement mentions that a natural increase accounted for 37.5 per cent of annual population growth, while net overseas migration accounted for the remaining 62.5 per cent.
Australia's population, now at around 25.5 million people, is expected to rise to 40 million by 2049.
Disclaimer: This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.