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Australian visas: What's changing from July 1 and impact on international students and skilled migrants

NSW announced that they will commence the 491visa program from Feb 2021 Source: Getty Images

After a tumultuous year of immigration policy changes enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, international students, skilled migrants, partners and aged parents seeking to visit or to permanently migrate are heading into the next financial year facing an uncertain future “like never before.”

SBS Punjabi spoke to several registered migration agents envisaging some of the major changes that are likely to impact both the existing and prospective visa holders, as we step into a new financial year.


  • Critical sector occupations to get priority under state nomination programs
  • Onshore visa applicants, including international students, likely to have an "edge" over offshore applicants
  • Offshore visa applicants to remain "worst-affected" by processing delays

General Skilled migration:

All jurisdictions usually adjust their occupation lists to accommodate the next year’s allocations of places for visas.

But this year, migration agents warn changes would be more “significant yet short term” to accommodate Australia’s response to the ongoing health crisis, which has blocked many existing visa holders from entering the country.

Victoria closed skilled nominated visa
General skilled nomination: What may change on July 1?
Getty Images

Here’s what you need to know:


The state government will start accepting new applications for the Skilled Nominated (Permanent) visa (subclass 190) and the Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 491) in the financial year 2020-2021, subject to an announcement.

Like the rest of Australia, Victoria is also facing multiple challenges owing to the COVID-19-induced health and financial crisis.

Migration agent Navjot Kailay said priority will be given to occupations in sectors critical to the coronavirus response, such as medicine, infrastructure, tradies, etc, over other occupations.

“It seems apparent that applicants possessing critical skills will be given priority in the new financial year. Out of which those onshore are likely to receive priority processing. But once the program opens, which we don't know when it certainly would, the initial invitations will give us a clear picture of the upcoming trends for 2020-2021,” he said.

Applications open for NSW 491 visas
In a significant development for visa hopefuls, NSW opened its Skilled Work Regional visa, applications for which closed on June 26. (Representational image).

New South Wales:

In a significant development for visa hopefuls, NSW opened its Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 491) - applications for which closed on June 26, 2020.

The state relaxed the 12-month living and removed the working requirement paving another pathway for skilled migrants planning to work and live in the state.

“This program was long-awaited and when it opened it was nothing short of a windfall for people currently living in the designated regional areas of NSW and had a listed occupation, as the state offered significant relaxations in the criteria,” said Mr Kailay.

South Australia:

The state has said it will reopen its nomination application system for 190/491 in early August, subject to an announcement.

Western Australia:

The WA government made changes to their occupation list on 16 June 2020, removing Registered Nurse (Mental Health) (254422) and adding Nuclear Medicine Technologist (251213) and Physicist (234914) - with the specialisation of Medical Physicist.

Queensland business and skilled state nomination programs
Migration agents warn changes would be more “significant yet short term” in FY20-21.
Getty Images


Business and Skilled Migration Queensland (BSMQ) has also closed its state nomination program. The state is now awaiting advice from the Department of Home Affairs with regards to its nomination allocation for the financial year 2020-21.

Northern Territory

The NT program remains closed to offshore applicants at this stage. New eligibility requirements for all nominations will apply as of 1 July 2020.

Migration agent Narinder Kaur said international students living in the territory will have a “clear edge” over other applicants in the new financial year.

“Student visa holders who live in the designated areas and those who keep upscaling their skill sets which are in high demand in the territory have higher chances to be considered for the permanent residency visa nomination,” she said.

Australian Capital Territory

In Australian Capital Territory, only 81 invitations were issued for subclass 190 in the latest round on June 3, as compared 485 in the previous round. Whereas, no invitations were issued for subclass 491 owing to “sufficient applications in the queue,” as per information available on the state website.

The next invitation round is due on or before 15 July, subject to an announcement.


Tasmania has allowed some flexibility for some applicants affected by COVID-19 who are trying to meet the requirements for state nomination.

As of 20 March 2020, 491 applications have been temporarily restricted until further notice to occupations listed in the ‘high demand’ section of the Tasmanian Skilled Occupation List (TSOL).

In-demand occupations:

Migration agent Ranbir Singh said occupations critical to the country’s response to the pandemic and economic recovery will remain in high demand.

“Health professionals are now getting priority which was evident from an increase in visa invitations for 189, 190, 491categories," he said.

"Accounting and IT graduates in Australia could also benefit due to lesser competition owing to a significant anticipated decline in offshore applications in FY 20-21. Also, state nominations under 491 could be a blessing for graduates who are unable to secure an invite under the highly competitive subclass 189 or 190 streams." 

A map of Australia

Onshore vs offshore:

Migration agent Jujhar Bajwa said this year is expected to yield better outcomes for onshore international students and skilled migrants, particularly those who are living in the regional areas across the country.

“2019 saw an increased push towards regional areas and this financial year is going to be no exception. But FY 20-21 is expected to be far more beneficial for visa hopefuls currently in Australia as opposed to those who remain stranded outside the country due to border closures,” he said.

Mr Bajwa said the federal government’s focus is towards protecting the interests of Australians and temporary migrants who remain in the country.

“It is a great time for temporary visa holders who are currently in Australia and have their skillset ready to lodge their visa applications in designated regional areas where their occupations are in high demand,” he said.

Impact on international students:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the federal government is working with the states and territories on plans to allow some international students to return on a pilot basis.

In a powerful ultimatum to all jurisdictions, the prime minister reiterated that the states and territories eager to allow international students back into the country will first have to fulfil the prerequisites laid down by the national cabinet.

"There is a range of prerequisites the states are well aware of and they need top applied," said Mr Morrison.

Processing times:

International lockdowns to contain the COVID-19 outbreak have triggered visa processing issues across the globe, leading to 'significant' processing delays due unavailability of key assessment services and the consequent inability of applicants to meet visa criteria.

In response to SBS Punjabi’s query, a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs earlier said: “Visas continue to be processed during the coronavirus pandemic, though some applications may take longer as international shutdowns have made it difficult to source supplementary information like health and character checks.”

Ranbir Singh said, "this may well continue into the next financial year."

“Offshore applicants - be it for partners, students, parents, skilled migrants, or visitors - they will continue to feel the pinch until all source countries find a way to contain the pandemic,” he said.

"For instance, the processing time for a contributory parent visa application has already ballooned to over four years."


Queensland had the fastest growing Net Overseas Migration in Australia.
Federal government expects net migration to fall to just 35,000 in 2020-21.

Net overseas migration trends:

With international border closures expected to be in place until next year, the federal government expects net overseas migration to fall to just 35,000 in 2020-21 – but it needs to be between 160,000 and 220,000 to maintain GDP per capita growth.

This means the total number of migrants who will make Australia home this financial year, both temporary and permanent, will be far lower than it has been in a long time, as was reflected in the visa grants which fell dramatically in the past few months.

Migration agents claim a post-pandemic Australia will find it difficult to recover in the absence of a large number of migrants.

“Migrants contribute to Australia’s economic growth, population, productivity and also make a significant contribution to the country's social and cultural fabric. Thousands of migrants have already left the country in the wake of the pandemic, many are still leaving, while others are stranded offshore. All of this is bound to have an impact on what Australia would look like on the other side of this crisis,” said Mr Bajwa.

Visa fees and charges:

Australian visa charges increase each year on 1 July in line with the consumer price index (CPI). This increase is normally around 3 to 4 per cent.

Ranbir Singh said there is no clarity on whether visa cost will increase this year, given the unprecedented circumstances.

“We don’t know if the cost of visas will increase this year given the ongoing health crisis and the financial fragility of visa seekers,” he said.

Click on the player above to listen to the interviews with registered migration agents in Punjabi.

Disclaimer: This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Find out what restrictions are in place for your state or territory.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

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