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Government wants to force migrants to stay put in Regional Australia

A single tree is seen within a Canola field in the NSW Riverina area near Lockhart, 80km west of Wagga Wagga. Source: AAP

The federal government says it may change visas designed to bring skilled migrants to regional areas because many are leaving for the cities once they secure permanent residency, typically after two to four years.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge says the Government is examining ways to make migrants stay in regional centres if they've been sponsored to work outside Australia's big cities.

One suggestion would be to double the time migrants need to settle in regional Australia, before being permitted to move to a city such as Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane.

Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge
Verdoppelung der Wartezeit? Sozialminister Alan Tudge Mitte Mai vor der Presse in Melbourne

"If they've come in on the basis of being employed in a regional area, then we think it's not an unreasonable expectation that they stay in that area for a certain amount of time," Mr Tudge told reporters in Melbourne.

"We're looking at ways that we can effectively bind people to the regions if they've got a sponsorship to go to those locations."

What's on offer?

Australia has several visas designed to encourage skilled migrants to work in regional and rural Australia. One of them is the Skilled Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 489). It is for skilled people who want to live and work in a specified designated area in Australia.

According to the Government's Fact Sheet at the Department of Human Services, "successful applicants are granted a four year temporary visa to give them time to satisfy the residence and employment criteria for a permanent visa".

Applicants (including secondary applicants such as their spouses and children) must live, work and study in a specified regional area of Australia for at least two years, after which they can apply for the permanent Skilled Regional visa (subclass 887).

There's also the direct entry stream of the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visa (subclass 187) if the sponsored migrant has the support of a regional employer in regional Australia.

So where's the problem?

Once regional migrants have spent four years in regional Australia, and satisfied all the Government's requirements, they are typically granted permanent residency, which often leads to an application for the coveted Australian Passport.

And once they get permanent residency, let alone citizenship, they cannot be forced to stay put in regional Australia. In other words, they are free to settle wherever they wish, just like any other Australian or PR holder.

This said, Mr Tudge says the Government is only considering changes, and is yet to formulate any proper policy on the visas.

7,000 of nearly 190,000 migrants to Australia settled in rural areas last year.

Source SBS, Australian Government Department of Home Affairs