Quenching the Regional Labour Pool Drought

At GV we have talked a lot about population displacement to regional areas as the new solution to overcrowding in Australian metropolitan and suburban areas.  In fact, this is something we predicted in our annual report Looking Back, Moving Forward.

Back then we didn’t have the specifics, but now we do.  Two new provisional regional visas will be introduced from 16 November 2019 to promote and prioritise migration to designated regional areas in Australia.  These new visas will replace two existing subclasses:

new replaces table

Both new visas will allow you to live, work and study in regional Australia for up to five years and apply for permanent residency through the Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional) (Subclass 191) visa after it commences on 16 November 2022.

The Department of Home Affairs intends to have 673 eligible occupations for the Subclass 491 visa and 504 eligible occupations for the Subclass 494.  The legislative instrument for the occupation list is yet to be released.

Designated Regional Areas under the Subclass 491/494 visa – Somewhere between the Coast and Woop Woop

The notion of what is classified as ‘regional’ isn’t as big of a stretch in real life as it is our heads – some of us still refer to regional by places like ‘woop woop’.  Under the Subclass 491/494 visa ’designated regional areas includes’ any part of Australia excluding Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Perth and Melbourne.  This includes, the regions of Newcastle, Wollongong and the NSW Central Coast under the Subclass 491 visa.  This is quite expansive in comparison to its former counterpart; the Subclass 489 visa.

Subclass 491 Visa

A Comparative Analysis – Subclass 489 v Subclass 491

Like the Subclass 489 visa, the Subclass 491 visa is a temporary points-tested visa for applicants sponsored by:

  1. A designated regional area of an Australian State or Territory, or
  2. A family member residing in a designated regional area of Australia.

However to encourage migrants to settle in regional areas, the Department of Home Affairs has provided a number of incentives to applicants for the new Subclass 491 visa (perks that the old Subclass 489 never offered!) including:

  • Access to 15 points for regional nomination as opposed to 10 points, and
  • Access to priority processing.

The visa grant period for the Subclass 491 visa will be five years with an opportunity to apply for permanent residency under the new Subclass 191 visa after three years.  The purpose of the five year grant is to allow some scope for leave and other periods of employment.  This is a change from the original two years required under the Subclass 489 visa.

Another interesting perk the obligation to reside in a regional area now extends to all members of the family unit included in the application.  The applicant and all family members must live, work and study in a designated regional area.

A New Points Test

The Department of Home Affairs introduced a new points system under Schedule 6D of the Migration Regulations 1994 which provides additional benefits to a number of applicants including regional applicants, applicants with a skilled partner, applicants with a partner with competent English skills, and single applicants.

The table below summarises the new points allocations:

points requirement

How are invitations ranked?

Invitations will be ranked in the following order:

First – Primary applicants with a skilled partner

Equal First – Primary applicants without a partner

Second – Primary applicants with a partner who can demonstrate competent English, but does not have the skills for skilled partner points (age and skills)

Third – Primary applicants with a partner who is ineligible for either competent English or skilled partner points.

Can 491 visa holders lodge other visas?

Subclass 491 visa holders cannot lodge certain visas until they have held a Subclass 491 visa (and met its conditions) for three years.  The restriction includes the following visas:

  • Subclass 124/858 – Distinguished Talent
  • Subclass 132 – Business Talent
  • Subclass 186 – Employer Nomination Scheme
  • Subclass 188 – Business Innovation and Investment
  • Subclass 198 – Skilled-Independent
  • Subclass 190 – Skilled-Nominated
  • Subclass 820 – Temporary Partner (onshore)

How does the 491 visa lead to permanent residency?

The Subclass 491 visa is a five-year visa.  You can access permanent residence through the Subclass 191 (Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional)) visa when the following is met:

  • You have lived, worked or studied in the designated regional area for at least three years, whilst holding a Subclass 491 visa, and
  • You can show earnings of at least $53,900 annually for three years.  If you have a partner included in your Subclass 491 visa application, only one of you needs to show the three years of annual salary (through tax returns) at or above $53,900.  Your partner can be the main applicant for the Subclass 191 visa if they can demonstrate meeting this requirement.

Applicant Requirements

Applicants must:

  • Satisfy the points test,
  • Be invited to apply,
  • Be under 45 at the time of application,
  • Have a skilled occupation on an applicable occupation list and have a valid, suitable skills assessment,
  • Have competent English at the time of application,
  • Declare a genuine intention to live, work and study in a designated regional area, and
  • Meet public interest criteria including health and character requirements.

Subclass 494 Visa

The Subclass 494 visa is a regional employer sponsored visa that involves three stages:

  1. Sponsorship,
  2. Nomination, and
  3. Visa application

In this way it is a parallel to the Subclass 482 Temporary Skilled Shortage visa.

Your employer can nominate you under two streams:

  1. Employer sponsored, or
  2. Labour agreement.


The regional business will need to apply to be a standard business sponsor before nominating applicants under the Subclass 494 visa.  It is important to note that businesses will not be able to apply to become an accredited business sponsor under this visa subclass.

Nomination Requirements

  • Your employer must be located in a designated regional area of Australia (as defined above).
  • The nominated position must be on the relevant occupation list (over 700 occupations are available).
  • Labour Market Testing requirements.  No ITO exemption.
  • Your employer will need approval from the relevant Regional Certifying Body in your area.
  • The nominated position must be full-time, genuine and likely to be available for five years.
  • You must be paid at least the annual market salary rate.
  • While there are no fees for this visa, your employer will need to pay a Skilling Australians Fund levy.  This will be a one-off payment of either AUD$3,000 or AUD$5,000.

Visa Requirements

You must:

  • Be under 45 years of age at the time of application
  • Hold a substantive visa or Bridging A, B or C visa at the time of application if onshore
  • Hold a successful skills assessment at the time of application
  • Have a genuine intention to perform the nominated occupation
  • Have at least three years full-time relevant work experience in the nominated occupation or a related field.  There is no provision for part-time equivalence.
  • Have Medicare. No health insurance.
  • Have competent English skills at the time of application
  • Meet health and character requirements.  One fails all fails.

Note: a new nomination and new visa is required if the applicant receives a promotion.  In this event, the three years will start again.

A Comparative Analysis – Subclass 494 v Subclass 187

Unlike the Subclass 187 (RSMS) visa which is a permanent visa, the Subclass 494 visa is a provisional five-year visa which can lead to permanent residency under the Subclass 191 visa.  Some other major differences include the following:

  • Available in two streams – Employer Sponsored and Labour Agreement streams
  • Access to an increased number of occupations
  • Priority processing of applications
  • Expansion of definition of regional Australia to include all areas of Australia except the metropolitan areas (detailed above)

What remains unchanged is that applicants will continue to be required to be nominated by an employer in regional Australia and meet age, English language, skills assessment, work experience, character and health requirements.

How does the Subclass 494 visa lead to permanent residency?

This is a five-year visa which allows access to permanent residency through the Subclass 191 visa when the following are met:

  • You have worked in the designated regional area for at least three years as a Subclass 494 visa, and
  • You can show earning of at least $53,900 annually for three years.  If you have a partner included in your Subclass 491 visa application, only one of you needs to show the three years of annual salary (through tax returns) at or above $53,900.  Your partner can be the main applicant for the Subclass 191 visa if they can demonstrate meeting this requirement.

Transitional Arrangements

The introduction of the new regional visas will not affect those who currently hold skilled or regional visas.  Current Subclass 489 visa holders will continue to have access to the Subclass 187 Skilled Regional visa.

RSMS lodged before 16 November 2019, will be taken to have been withdrawn on 16 November 2019 if:

  • Regional nomination has not been approved or refused before 16 November; and
  • Nominee is not transition 457 or 482 employee; and
  • Nominee has not lodged 187 visa application before 16 November.

If you lodged an application for the current Subclass 187 or 489 visa before 16 November 2019, your application will be processed as normal.  Additionally, the new visas will not impact the permanent residence status of current permanent visa holders.

Please note that there no provisions for the Direct Entry stream for permanent residency.

In Summary

The changes in the Subclass 494 and Subclass 491 visas appear to offer increased opportunities for employers in regional Australia.  Prima facie, the new Subclass 494 visa looks very similar to that which it is replacing, making it appear like a re-branding exercise.  The move from up-front permanent residency to at least a three-year wait may deter potential candidates, but a visa validity period of five years means that should be straightforward to achieve.

All in all, the new visas are going to make it more attractive to migrate to regional Australia, especially for international students who will be enticed to study in those regions with a simpler pathway to the Subclass 491 visa.  The Department of Home Affairs has for the first time allocated 23,000 places for regional skilled migration under the 2019-20 Migration Program.  As at 30 September 2019, the Department of Home Affairs was 10.3 per cent above pro rata.  The program will be met through existing pipelines and update of these new provisional visas.

The soon to be reclassified cities as regional areas will experience a major boost – a city like Newcastle, for example, is only a two-hour drive away from Sydney and has its own university.  With one of the most generous State or Territory occupation lists and with Adelaide being the largest regional city, South Australia will continue to be a very attractive option for international students looking to migrate to Australia.