The government has announced just before the national elections (rather strategically I think ) that there will be two new skilled regional provisional visas introduced on the 16th of November 2019 and the scrapping of the 187 RMS visa. So the obvious questions are, “ how does this affect migrants and employers?” and secondly, “what new hell of processes do we now need to be aware of?”
Well as with all things in life, we need to start with what is simple to understand. In summary, these are the visas that have been introduced;
- Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa: for people sponsored by an employer in regional Australia.
- Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa: for people who are nominated by a State or Territory government or sponsored by an eligible family member to live and work in regional Australia.
The second thing we then do is note how the Department explains what these visas are. These visas according to the explanatory statement released by the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs are described in the following way;
- The new Subclass 491 Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa (Subclass 491), a new and enhanced points-tested visa to assist regional Australia, for applicants nominated by a state or territory government agency or sponsored by an eligible family member residing in a designated regional area
- The Subclass 494 (Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional)) visa (Subclass 494), a new and enhanced employer-sponsored visa to assist regional Australia, with two streams: Employer-Sponsored and Labour Agreement;
- Brings employers seeking to employ foreign workers on a Subclass 494 visa under the sponsorship regime for employers in the Migration Act (Division 3A of Part 2 of the Migration Act
The explanatory statement also introduces a new Subclass 191 (Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional)) visa for persons who hold a Subclass 491 or a Subclass 494 visa at the time of application;
The eligibility criteria for the Subclass 191 visa, state that the primary applicant must:
- hold a regional provisional visa when they apply for the Subclass 191 visa and have held that visa for at least three years;
- have earned a minimum income for at least three years as the holder of a regional provisional visa; and
- have complied with the conditions of the regional provisional visa
So in plain English what does this mean?
For the General Skilled visa program, the 489 will be replaced, but this isn’t a big deal, and the reason is that while the 489 is a great visa, it was a token offer by the department. Consider this this irony for a minute; the Department condemned non-regional migration for the past 12 months, and at the same time provided a visa specific to regional migration that they fully controlled the number of invitations for. However, at the time of writing the department offered 22,700 – 189 General Skilled migration visas (visa where people could live anywhere) and 100 (yes, just 100) 489 family sponsored general skilled migration visas (Visas where people had to live in a regional area for at least 2 years).
So what I can see here is a change from one thing to another thing that is probably the same thing. Like eating an ice cream cake and then halfway through deciding that you would rather have an ice cream sandwich.
Employers, however, might notice a real change. On the 16th of November 2019, it will no longer be possible to lodge a 187 visa. It will cease to exist, done, finished, kaput…you get it right? According to the department, existing 187 applications will still be processed, But given how the department has treated employers, applicants and agents in the past, the memories of the 457 change to 482 program are still too painful to rehash. I feel that I am justifiably sceptical at best. I’m not undermining the ethics of the department. But history is history, and I and many other agents share this opinion because we have been plagued by spurious and unreasonable actions. In the words of Former President George Bush, “Fool me once, shame on you…Fool me again…you can’t get fooled.” Let’s hope for a fair close-out to what has been a very good visa for employers in regional areas.
This final section is not for the faint of heart.
As you may recall, the explanatory statement released by the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs stated that the new changes will
“bring[s] employers seeking to employ foreign workers on a Subclass 494 visa under the sponsorship regime for employers in the Migration Act (Division 3A of Part 2 of the Migration Act)”
OK, seriously Joe Public is not supposed to know what this means. I mean talk about blindsiding an audience. Is it bad? No. Is it good? No. Is it slightly worse for regional employers? Absolutely. And here’s where I get annoyed. Division 3A basically is the part of the Act that applied to the 457, 482, and other temporary sponsored visas. So why is it good. Well, it allows the department to monitor the sponsor to ensure they are meeting the obligations of the sponsorship. Why is it bad – because the recording, reporting and responsibilities of employers on the 494 are higher than of the 187. And while this reporting and responsibility are minimal, it’s the pitch the Department gives that is a deception. The Department is not helping small regional businesses by making it easier to employ overseas workers. It is making it harder and disguising the facts.
So is it a big deal? No, the 187 obligations were really easy for employers to understand, primarily because the 187 was a permanent visa, the applicant was a permanent resident and as such treated like any Australian, which 99.9% of employers are happy with. Division 3A adds additional reporting and responsibilities which the employers will have to understand before they can sponsor an overseas worker. Once employers take the time to read and understand the requirements I suspect a majority will continue, but it is not an easy read.
So will this new visa structure deliver what it sets out to deliver? Well right now it is too early to tell, and unless the Department releases legislation that will allow the program to be properly assessed and not just publicity pieces and explanatory notes. I doubt it will offer the benefits to employers that the original program sought to achieve. Experience has shown us with the most recent changes (past 2 years) that change management has been poor and rife with faults.
It seems a bit dismal to end on this note, but it is what it is, and I call it how I see it. The best advice I can give for employers and migrants regarding the up coming changes is to make sure that you stay informed, and do as much as you can before the changes are put in place because the end of 2019 is going to be a bumpy ride for these types of applications.