As Australia moves into 2022, the Australian Government has introduced a number of significant changes to its Migration Program.

The changes are projected to curb the falling migration rates Australia has experienced since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerate the country’s economic recovery. In 2022-23, the Treasury anticipates the rate of migration to climb to 180,000 people – a stark increase from the forecast of -41,000 in 2021-22.

With these changes come promising opportunities for migrants hoping to secure temporary or permanent visas. A summary of these changes are below:

Permanent residency for skilled migrants:

In November 2021, the Australian Government announced significant visa changes designed to retain migrants in critical sectors. Under these changes, certain migrants who have chosen to remain in Australia and work throughout the pandemic will be eligible for permanent residency.

Specifically, these changes may benefit those on short-term stream of the Temporary Skills Shortage (Subclass 482) visa and those who do not meet the age requirement for the now-discontinued Temporary Work (Subclass 457) visa.

Permanent residency for skilled migrants in the regions:

New permanent residency pathways are now eligible for skilled migrants working in regional areas.

The Skilled Regional (Subclass 191) visa will be introduced on 16 November 2022, and is available to people who have lived, worked and studied in a designated regional area on a previous, eligible visa.

Permanent residency for Hong Kong residents:

From 5 March 2022, Hong Kong nationals based in Australia will also have access to a specialised pathways to permanent residency – the Skilled Independent (Subclass 189) (Hong Kong Stream) visa and the Skilled Regional (Subclass 191) (Hong Kong Stream) visa.

Approximately 8,800 existing temporary skilled, graduate and student visa holders will be eligible for these new streams when it opens.

Change to Skilled Independent (Subclass 189) (New Zealand Stream) visa:

The New Zealand pathway of the subclass 189 visa has also been amended in 2021, allowing eligible New Zealand citizen temporary visa holders who earn a certain income the opportunity to secure permanent residency.

Additionally, temporary visa holders who were on a pathway to permanent residency prior to COVID-19 to maintain their eligibility. According to the Department spokesperson, “New Zealand citizens applying for the New Zealand stream of the Skilled Independent (subclass 189) visa will be able to claim an exemption from meeting the income requirement for the 2020-21 income year… Applicants can claim a COVID-19 income exemption from either the 2019-20 or 2020-21 income year but not both.”

Section 48 bar lifted for skilled migrant visas:

Skilled migrants are also temporarily being given the opportunity to apply onshore for three skilled migration subclasses – the Skilled Work Regional (Subclass 491) visa, the Skilled Regional Employer Sponsored (Subclass 494) visa and the Skilled Nominated (Subclass 190) visa.

The opportunity has become available due to a change to section 48 of the Migration Act. The Section 48 bar applies to applicants who have had a visa refused or cancelled since their last entry into Australia.

New visa settings for Temporary Graduate (Subclass 485) visa holders:

A concession for temporary graduate visa holders has been announced, allowing visa holders who have been stranded offshore during the pandemic to apply for a replacement visa.

Specifically, the concession permits visa holders whose visas expired on or after 1 February 2020 to re-apply for a new visa of the same duration from 1 July 2022.

Additionally, the stay period for visa holders who are Masters by Coursework graduates has been extended from two years to three years, and from 18 months to 24 months for those on the Graduate Work stream.

These announcements are welcome news for temporary visa holders hardest hit by the country’s strict border closures. We will endeavour to update our clients regarding their eligibility, once the associated legislation with the above changes is released.

Seeking advice? Please contact our team for further information as to how these changes may affect you: [email protected]