Skilled Work Visa (Regional) – subclass 491

In November 2019 the Australian government has changed the migration laws for the Skilled Work Visa Regional replacing the old 481 with the new subclass of 491. In this article we discuss the requirements of the old subclass 481, what has changed with the new subclass 491 and what does it mean to you.

To explore the Skilled Work visa further, please read on.

481 Eligibility Requirements Summary

  • Be invited to apply by the Department of Home Affairs
  • Be nominated by an Australian State or Territory government agency or sponsored by a relative
  • Be under the age of 45 before the invitation to apply is issued by the Department of Home Affairs
  • Have a suitable skills assessment
  • Score 65 points or more
  • Have competent English
  • Meet skills requirement
  • Meet health requirement
  • Meet character requirement
  • Have no debt to the Australian government
  • Sign an Australian values statement
  • Not have had a visa cancelled or a previous application refused

The History of the Skilled Work Visa

Australia is a large country that requires 5 hours in a plane to travel from the east coast to the west coast. This is approximately the same distance from the east to west coast of the United States. It requires approximately 4 hours to fly from the south to the north coast. In many continents, if you are to fly this distance, you would have already flown across many countries. This is how large Australia is.

With a country this large, one would think that the population is also large, but in fact, this is quite the opposite. The Australian population is only approximately 30 million, which means Australia has a large land to population ratio. Plenty of land for everyone!

But, although there is plenty of land, housing in Australia is very expensive and the population is concentrated in two major cities – Sydney and Melbourne. As with many countries around the world, Australia is seeing a demographic shift towards major cities which results in rural and remote towns slowly become ghost towns. People are leaving the rural communities towards the city life.

Australia, however, is a country that is proud of its agricultural industry, tourism, mining and other wonders of the world. There is an abundance of demand coming from around the world for Australia’s natural resources, but sadly there is a depletion of workers to be found in regional areas of Australia.

As a consequence, employers and companies that are based in the regional communities have a need for workers. And they are finding it difficult to attract good workers from anywhere within Australia, which is jeopardizing the success of their regional businesses.

The Australian government recognises that there is a need for good workers in regional areas, and therefore created the Skilled Work Visa. The Skilled Work visa was created to attract migrants to Australia to fill in the gap of workers in regional areas. To attract good migrant workers the Australian government created Work Skilled Regional visas with the possibility of transitioning from a temporary visa, to a permanent visa to citizenship.

This provides a great opportunity for migrants around the world to come to Australia to work and support Australian regional communities.

Requirements of Skilled Work Visa Provisional – Subclass 491

The new requirements for the 491 Skilled Work Visa (Provisional) is as follows:

  1. Reside in a regional area for three years;
  2. Earn at least $53,900 income in each of the three years;
  3. Have a skill that is listed in the skilled occupations list;
  4. Be nominated by a State or Territory agency, or sponsored by a relative

These new requirement are in some aspects more open than the previous 481 visa, and in some aspects more restrictive.

Let’s compare 481 with 491

The previous 481 visa required less number of years. It was only two years, whilst the new visa 491 requires three years. This was possibly to encourage migrants to stay longer in regional communities.

The second difference, is that the regional areas expanded to what was only Adelaide and Perth and other remote and limited regional areas, to now any regional area that is outside of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane cities.

And lastly, now with the 491, you must be nominated by a State or Territory agency or sponsored by a relative before submitting an application with the Department of Home Affairs for a visa.

1. Reside in a Regional Area for 3 years.

Many who are not familiar often wonder what is it like to live in a regional area, which is required for visa subclass 491. And how does it compare to living in a major city such as Sydney or Melbourne, or any major city around the world.

A regional area, as required by subclass 491 is typically at least more than 70km or 45 miles away from the City of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Given how expansive Australia, there is a huge number of regional communities each with their own unique character.

Regional communities can mostly be grouped into agriculture, mining, rural outback.

Some regional communities have a strong dependency on their agriculture. Their industry typically is farming, such as orchards for fruit and or vegetables. Live stock, such as cows, sheep and pigs. These regional communities have a strong need for workers who can help pick fruit, take care of watering, manage the land, feed livestock, vaccinate livestock, rotate livestock from land to land, and general land and equipment maintenance.

As an example, in the outskirts of Mackay in Illbilbie, I have worked in at a rural property named Coral Breeze, whilst also working at the neighbouring Aquaculture farm which was just “down” the road both on a part time basis. I lived at the house in Coral Breeze, without paying any rent, and was responsible for maintaining the land, taking care of the sheep and cows , general care of the house for the owners. I will discuss in more detail that actual type of work that I performed, so for the time being will describe the environment and distance from the nearest local city.

Coral Breeze is approximately one hour drive away from Mackay which is the closest nearest “city” in North East Queensland. Queensland is one of the states in Australia and is famous for the Great Barrier Reef and beaches.

North East Queensland, therefore attracts many tourists, but is also well known for its mining and agricultural industries. The city of Mackay is experiencing a boom in its population as a result of a nearby mine (Adani) which was granted approval by the Australian Government to open. The population is mostly white Anglo Saxon and Indigenous Australian. There is also a diverse mix of ethnic backgrounds in Mackay – comprising of Chinese, Malay, Thai, Philippinos and other Asian ethnic backgrounds have small communities established in Mackay, with lesser degree African and Middle Eastern.

Now while, I suggest that there is a population boom, the city is relatively small and quiet when compared to major cities around the world. The culture is a pub culture of having drinks during and after work, watching the “footy” – Australian sport – and generally just taking it easy (of course I’m generalising). This is the happy go lucky Aussie culture of the outbacks. The city consists of approximately 6 to 10 blocks, with 2 to 3 main roads. It is a beautiful city and is considered a regional area. For those who are accustomed to the busy humming life of the city, you may find Mackay a little boring. There isn’t much to do there, lots of restaurants, a few supermarkets, small retail outlets. A lot of factories, equipment wholesalers, and that’s about it.

This can be described as a typical regional area, not too small and not too big.

But this is not where I lived! I lived on on a rural property and worked there. The property Coral Breeze is about 1 hour drive from the Mackay hub, on a property that is over 80 acres. My neighbour, just down the road, is a 10 minute walk. I lived together with my two daughters, and we lived a quiet life. My daughters attended school in Sarina, which was a 30 minute bus ride.

The dam at Coral Breeze

I enjoyed it very much, and so did my daughters. The isolation did not bother us. We had our own car, we could travel around, and we enjoyed being with nature and living off the land. With our work, we were able to connect to the local community and establish a network of friends. Now, if I were in my younger years, I would hesitate to commit to a lifestyle in such an isolated environment. But since I am a lot older, I enjoyed the lifestyle.

The outlet where the creek meets the sea

Regional communities, therefore are a lengthy distance from cities, let alone major cities. There are three major cities in Australia, which are Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. And if you wish to live near those cities in regional areas, you will still be approximately a 1 hour drive away (which isn’t too far) but then there are other considerations to factor in, which we will get to later.

Regional Cultural and Religious Diversity

Regional communities, since they are in need of migrant workers, therefore usually are Anglo Saxon and Christian. I recall travelling to the Central Coast, Woy Woy, which is a regional area one hour train trip from Sydney City, and walked into the local pub (This was last year). I am ethnic Chinese, but have grown up in Australia, and to my surprise I was the only Asian. Though sticking out like a sore thumb, the community is warm and accepting. Yes, Australia is renown for pockets of racism and discrimination but in general Australians are accepting and open minded. (Except when it comes to politics in which there is a great indifference or even hatred).

Is the lifestyle for me?

Three years in living in a regional area can be difficult, especially if you are single and love to party. I can imagine young singles living in a regional area for up to one year, and be able to tolerate the lack of entertainment, but three years is certainly a long time. For families, this may be different. Families have strong social cohesion and is a great experience for all, since there isn’t a need for night clubs and partying hard.

Of course, I have generalised with the above comments, and each person is different. Some regional areas offer different activities, and also have different ethnic backgrounds. Take for example the city of Wollongong, which is south of Sydney. Many in fact commute from Wollongong to Sydney to work. And in that city, there is a huge buddhist community, that has worked together with the NSW government to establish a large buddhist temple.

2. Earn a Salary of $59,300 annually

Often a salary in another country is hard to conceptualize. Is it a lot or is it little? Is it obtainable, and if so how many hours do I need to work to reach $59,300 per year?

The salary of $59,300 is not regarded as low, but then again it is not extremely high either.

Wages at McDonald’s for those aged between 17 to 20 are under $20 per hour, but if you are older, wagers at McDonald’s could reach $25 per hour. Cleaners can earn approximately $30 per house on a casual basis.

If you worked 38 hours per week at $30 per hour and worked every week of the year, you will reach $59,280 salary for the year.

In a regional community, earning $30 per hour may be a little high, and therefore you would need to work extra hours to reach the threshold. (In the major cities these salaries are more readily attainable).

You, would also need to take into account the type of work that you are performing. Often work that relates to agricultural, such as fruit picking is seasonal. This means, at only certain times of the year, such as spring will the fruit be available to be picked. If so, they you will need to find other work during the off seasons, and this maybe difficult.

If you want a better idea of what salaries are typically like in regional areas, then refer to seek.com.au. This website is a job search website in Australia.

How does the Australian Government monitor my income?

In Australia all workers than earn an income from Australia is required to submit an Australian tax return. If your tax return does not declare an income of above $59,300 then you will not have met the required threshold for the year. In declaring the taxable income, typically your employer will provide to the Australian Tax Office your gross income and the tax that they have withheld and then passed on to the tax office on your behalf. You will then be left with approximately $48,600 in your bank account.

What has been a strong debate in recent years, regarding salary declaration are employers which only pay in cash. Employers which pay cash, in some cases, attempt to avoid passing on tax to the government, and may search for lower paid workers. There have been articles written whereby migrant workers have been exploited by employers and have paid them minimal cash per hour. Their method of exploitation is very much through threatening deportation (whether or not it is legitimate). These stories may in some cases be true, but it is difficult to substantiate.

Is earning $59,300 enough to live on?

This depends on the regional area and the infrastructure that they have. If there is a shortage of housing and a sudden influx of work, for example in Mackay, then rental for housing (which would be the largest cost) would be relatively more expensive than other areas. Rent in Mackay, would be approximately $250 to $300 per week for a 3 to 4 bedroom house. The smaller the house the lower the rent. A cup of coffee would be roughly $3, and a simple meal at a restaurant could be from $10 to $15.

A car, second hand, approximately 10 years old that has done over 100,000 km could cost from $5,000 to $10,000. Petrol is approximately $1.40 per litre.

If your living costs are therefore $1,000 per week, then earning $59,300 annually would be insufficient. Take note: that $59,300 is before tax. After tax is approximately $48,600. Hence you would need extra sources of funding, if you are expecting to earn only $59,300.

3. Skills required

Regional areas area looking for a diverse range of skills, but many them will not be your white collar work. This includes IT, Accounting, Senior Management, large corporations with Head Office work. The required skills will generally be for small to medium businesses, agriculture, mining, and farming. It may also be for healthcare, specialized services that are needed in the regional community. Please note: that although, I say typically these jobs won’t include white collar work, these may be available depending on the regional area. So you must check the approved skilled worker list to be sure.

Often questions are asked such as, can I work remotely for other firms that are in the city? Such as web development, software coding, basic office administration and accounting, accounts payable and accounts receivable processing etc. The employer must typically be in the regional area, have a business in the regional area, employ you and you live in the regional area. If you are thinking that perhaps you could simply have a residential address in the regional area, but still work in a major city – it won’t work. You will be breaking the visa law and you will be deported.

4. Be Nominated by State or Territory, or be sponsored by a relative

Australia is divided into States and Territories.

  • New South Wales (NSW)
  • Victoria
  • Queensland
  • South Australia (SA)
  • Western Australia (WA)
  • Tasmania
  • Australian Capital Territory (ACT)
  • North Territory

These States and Territories are administered by separate governments. They government themselves independently from each others for laws, responsibilities that are associated with the State. This differs from the Federal tier of government which instructs the overarching migration law and visa requirements. In creating subclass visa 491, the Federal Government, has placed as a requirement that applicants must be nominated by the State or Territory.

As this is a new requirement, each State and Territory is required to established a processing mechanism to review each applicants Expression Of Interest (EOI). An EOI is not the visa application, but a submission to the State and Territory explaining that you meet the visa requirements and that they should nominate you for the visa application with Home Affairs.

Now even though the subclass 491 is effective November 2019 is legal and ready for processing Federally with the Home Affairs, the States and Territories themselves are not ready to process EOI’s!

NSW, the most populated state in Australia, has yet to establish their EOI processing centre and has indicated that they will be ready by early 2020.

Before submitting your visa application with the Department of Home Affairs, you must receive a nomination.

The alternative is that you can be sponsored by an eligible relative. The relative must be an Australian citizen, an Australian permanent resident, or an eligible New Zealand citizen, over 18 years old, and is a relative of you or your partner (spouse).

Conclusion

If you are interested in exploring further the Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) subclass 491 visa then consider the described requirements as per outlined above. The Skilled Work Regional visa provides great opportunities for migrants, but it may not be ideal for everyone.

If you would like to know more about this visa, then please contact us.

FAQ

What is the age limit requirement?
To be eligible for the 491 visa, you need to be under 45 years of age at the time of the “Invite” of submission from the Department of Home Affairs.

Is this visa temporary?
Yes, this visa is a temporary visa, for up to 5 years. This means, there is an end date to this visa, and upon expiry, you must leave Australia. And if you wish to return a new visa must be applied for.

But can this visa lead to a permanent visa?
Yes, it can. Currently if you meet the requirements of the visa for more than 3 years, you are permitted to apply for permanent residency.

Can I reside in Sydney or Melbourne city with the subclass 491
With this visa, you cannot reside in the city of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. This means you must live in a designated regional area, as required by the Department of Home Affairs

Can I earn any salary I like?
No you cannot. At a minimum you must earn at least $59,300 per year for 3 years

I cannot speak English fluently, will I be accepted?
To be able to be nominated for this visa, if you are the main applicant you must have a competent level of English. If you are the partner or spouse of the main applicant, you must have functional English.

Can I commute to Sydney or Melbourne daily and work there?
Your employer must have their business registered in a designated regional area. In theory, if you are then required to work in the Sydney or Melbourne city, then you may travel there to work.

Is it expensive to live in a designated remote area?
Expenses will vary from regional area to regional area. However as a rough guide: – Rent is between $300 to $500 per week for a 3 bedroom house – Petrol is $1.40 per litre. – A car costs $30,000 for a five door sedan. – A meal for lunch is $10

Do I need to pay income tax?
Since you have earned income in Australia, you will be required to submit an Australian tax return and pay income tax.

What is it like to live in a regional area of Australia?
Australia is a vast country, and in some regional areas it can feel isolated. You may be kilometers or miles away from your nearest neighbour, and thus you may feel secluded. Some regional areas will have a largish population, but it will not be like your typical major city. Some people enjoy a regional environment, and some may not.

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