Recently, I was speaking to a colleague here at Gilton Valeo Lawyers discussing recent developments in global mobility and migration.  Our discussions soon turned to the recent news from Japan where it planned on paying people to leave Tokyo due to overcrowding.

We wondered whether the Australian Government would consider doing something similar and as it turns out, on 13 February 2023, the Australian Government implemented a program for subclass 482 visa holders on the Short-term skilled occupation list (STSOL) located in regional Australia to apply for permanent residency (PR), highlighting that the Australian Government may be looking to incentivise migrants to live in Australia’s country/rural areas.

Brief background

In January 2023, it was reported that the Japanese Government is offering to pay for families to move out of Tokyo in an effort to rejuvenate and promote countryside and rural living. Commencing in April, families who are located in Tokyo city will be eligible to receive 1 million yen (roughly AUD11,000) per child if they move to a lesser-populated area in Japan.  This concession is available to all families living in Tokyo city with children or dependents under the age of 18.  Although a similar program has been offered in Japan before, this new incentive is 3 times the amount of previous amounts offered for families to migrate to regional areas of Japan.

Japan is specifically targeting families with children under 18 in an effort to combat the aging rural population in Japan.

With the ability to work remotely being offered widely after the COVID-19 pandemic, this may be a great way for young families to start a new life in Japan’s countryside whilst still maintaining employment in the city, or even starting their own business in the town they decide to move into.

Australia’s current Regional Migration programs

As mentioned above, the Australian Government has recently provided the ability for subclass 482 visa holders on the STSOL who are located in regional Australia to apply for PR.  This new pathway available allows subclass 482 STSOL visa holders to apply for a subclass 186 TRT visa if they have been in Australia for at least one year between 1 February 2020 and 14 December 2021 (pandemic period), provided that they are lawfully employed at the time of application.  According to the latest surveys conducted by the Australian Government as of 30 June 2021:

  • 72% of Australians live in major cities.
  • 18% of Australians live in Inner regional areas; and
  • 0% of Australians in Outer regional areas.

With Australia having such a significant amount of its population located in major cities, it may be the case that we could see something similar to what has happened in Japan.  With the news of regional subclass 482 STSOL holders being eligible to apply for PR, it may be the first step toward the Australian Government enticing immigrants to remain in Australia to contribute to its rural communities.

As it currently stands, the Australian Government has the subclass 187 Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visa, which allows skilled workers who are nominated by their employer in regional Australia to live and work in Australia permanently by gaining PR.  However, this Direct Entry scheme is now closed and we are only left with the Temporary Residence Transition scheme, making it more difficult for prospective migrants to gain PR in regional Australia.

Would a similar incentive work in Australia?

Yes, we believe a similar program in Australia would work.  As it currently stands, the cost of living in Australia has been rising for quite some time now and is looking to continue to do so.  If the Australian Government is looking for a way to incentivise young Australian families to move into the countryside and rural areas, providing subsidies to help move the family would be of great assistance.

My colleague, Troy Andres, postulated that tax incentives for Australians to move regionally may be the solution to decentralising our metropolitan cities.  Given the challenges to new migrants with finding work and assimilating to culture in regional areas, it may be necessary to reconsider who would most likely thrive outside of our cities.

Notwithstanding, the Australian Government could provide priority processing for visa applicants for occupations on the ROL or located in regional Australia.  This could provide an incentive for migrants to enter Australia and boost the rural economies.  Alternatively, the Australian Government could implement schemes that would give regional workers or occupations faster eligibility for PR to entice prospective migrants to come work and stay in rural areas over longer periods of time.

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