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Skilled visas and pathways to permanent residency in Australia

The Skill stream accounts for nearly half of Australia's permanent migration program this year. Source: Getty Images/ john Clutterbuck

Australia has one of the biggest migration programs in the developed world, offering up to 160,000 permanent visas every year. While the COVID-19 pandemic has halted the flow of overseas migrants, those already onshore on temporary visas are availing themselves of the opportunity.

Over the years, the size of Australia's permanent migration program has varied according to the country's social, political and economic necessities.


  • In 1996–97 skilled migration made up 50 per cent of the migration program. But by 2008–09 that figure had increased to 70 per cent.
  • For the current financial year, the total number of intakes has been capped at 160,000.
  • Around 13,000 applicants received the 189 visa subclass (skilled independent) last financial year.

Within the permanent migration program, the Skill stream has the highest number of visas allocated and is further divided into different skilled categories: Skilled independent, employer-sponsored, Regional, State/Territory nominated, Business Skills and Global Talent Independent program.

Australia's migration program and permanent skilled visas
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Skilled Independent Subclass 189 visa

Skilled migration visa subclasses 189, 190 and 491 are points-tested visas, with each requiring a minimum of 65 points. The points are calculated based on factors like the applicant’s age, work experience, English language proficiency, partner’s qualifications etc.

A family of four arriving into a new country.
A state or territory government nomination adds addition points towards a points-tested visa.

Chinese-born Cherrie Wu was invited to apply for Subclass 189 permanent visa in March 2020. She recently received her visa grant. 

"I gave the different language tests and even waited till I was 25 to get the most number of points,” she says.

Subclass 189 and 190 visas are the most competitive pathways in the skill stream, and the applications are by invitation only.

This is how immigration can control the supply and demand of these visas.

A skilled Independent visa (Subclass 189) allows a visa holder to live and work anywhere in Australia without any conditions.

Alex Petrakos, Principal Migration Agent at Peak Migration, says that applicants need to have a high score to be granted a Subclass 189 visa because of the pathway's competitive nature. 

“The most popular occupations such as accounting, IT and engineering occupations are subject to what they call pro-rata arrangements, meaning that to be invited you need even higher points."

The higher the points score, the higher your chances of being invited to apply for the visa.  

State and Territory sponsored visa subclass 190

Each state and territory has a different set of criteria for nominating an applicant, in addition to the visa grant criteria. The state and territory governments can nominate applicants for subclass 190 (permanent) visa and subclass 491 (provisional) visa. 

A successful state nomination adds five points to an applicant's overall points score, which can help them meet the threshold of 65 points to apply for a skilled visa.

Austrailan passports
During the coronavirus pandemic, Australia has prioritised some medica, engineering and nursing-related occupations for immigration.
Getty Images/alicat

While the points score is calculated in the same way as in Skilled Independent visa, but unlike subclass 189, an applicant for a Skilled nominated visa first seeks a nomination from a state or territory government. Once nominated, a visa application for a Subclass 190 visa can be lodged.  

Most state and territory governments have currently suspended their nominations for offshore applicants due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

There are 11,200 state and territory nominated visa places reserved in the migration program during the current financial year. 

The number of Skilled Independent visas in the current migration program has also been reduced to 6,500, while the Global Talent Independent visa program has been expanded with 13,000 visa places.

  

Employer nomination scheme subclass 186

Australian businesses can nominate a skilled worker for a permanent visa under the Employer nomination scheme. 

Mr Petrakos says visa applicants must be under 45 years old when they apply for their visa, have at least three years' work experience in their nominated occupation and have competent English.

The visa applicant's occupation must be on the relevant skilled occupation list, and an applicant also needs a positive skills assessment. 

It is not a secret that the immigration program is highly political. It is there to answer to the needs of the Australian community.

A boy with a toy plane
Australia's annual migration program is mostly made up of skills and family stream visas, but there are 3000 visa places for Child visa.
Getty Images/FatCamera
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Australian government has prioritised a few medical, engineering and nursing-related occupations for temporary skills shortage, employer-sponsored and regional visas.  

These occupations are contained in the Priority Occupation List. 

The migration program

While Australia's migration program for the financial year 2020-2021 is capped at 160,000. However, the total permanent visa grants are expected to be much lower because of the international border closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nearly half of the program is made up of the Skill stream with 79,600 places, within which 13,000 visa places have been reserved for the Global Talent category. 

The family stream has 77,300 visas, with partner visa places nearly doubled at 72,300, and 4,500 parent visas. 

The rest of the program is child visas (3000) and special eligibility (100). 

You can find more information about visa and immigration on the Department of Home Affairs website, or contact a Registered Migration Agent for specific advice.

More information on Migration Agents in Australia.

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