On 16 November 2019, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) introduced the employer sponsored regional visa (Subclass 494).
The Federal Government hopes to stimulate the economy of regional locations by incentivising sponsored employees to live and work for three years before qualifying for Australian permanent residency (PR).
Regional areas largely excludes Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. In New South Wales, the regional definition captures postcodes from 2250 (Bucketty) to 2898 (Lord Howe Island). For Victoria, it begins from 3211 (Little River) to 3996 (Inverloch) and in Queensland, from 4207 (Yarrabilba) to 4895 (Wujal Wukal).
The entire area of Western Australia, South Australia, Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Tasmania fall under the regional definition.
Requirements - Company
To sponsor an employee under the 494 visa, companies need to be an active standard business sponsor or an accredited sponsor. The nominated occupation has to appear on the regional skilled list, which currently has 650 occupations on it - https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2019L01403.
The labour market testing and market salary rate requirement continues to apply. The minimum salary threshold is $53,900 plus superannuation. The Skilling Australian Fund (SAF) levy continues to apply and the amount will be dependent on the turnover of the business - $1,800 each year for companies that have turnover above $10 million and $1,200 for those below.
One added requirement is sponsors have to obtain the guidance of the regional certifying body (RCB) as part of the visa assessment.
Requirements - Individual
Employees are required to be under 45 years of age, unless being nominated in an academic role.
Employee must also have three years of relevant work experience, ‘competent’ English and positive skill assessment in their occupation. An exemption to the skill assessment requirement apply for academics and New Zealand citizens who have worked in role for three years at the time of application.
Family members will also need to reside, study and work in regional Australia. They can choose to live and work at a regional area different to the primary person, just as long as it is regional.
Conditions 8578 and 8579 will apply to the visa. These require employees to notify DHA of any changes within 14 days and ensure they live and work at the approved regional location while on the visa.
494 visas are granted for five years.
Should employers consider the 494 or TSS?
TSS visas will continue to play a role in the work visa program, even in regional areas. The additional requirements associated with the RCB process, skill assessment (which is not required for most TSS applications) and higher work threshold of three years (as oppose to two for the TSS) will hinder the 494 upfront.
However, upon obtaining the TSS, the employee can transition to the 494 visa as this provides a pathway to PR. Currently, only TSS occupations under the medium term occupation list have a PR pathway.
DHA have indicated the skilling levy will not apply when an application for PR is made (formally referred as Subclass 191) which is different to the current employer sponsored PR program.
Anyone seeking to switch employers or occupations will need to lodge a new 494 visa and nomination. Employees are unable to start the new role until the visa is approved.
Observations on the 494
As the RCB’s will be playing a key role in the process, employers need to familiarise themselves with their requirements. Each RCB has unique requirements around advertisement sources, type of roles for sponsorship and scale of the business in the regional location. Without the RCB’s approval, the 494 application may not succeed.
Anyone coming to Australia for the first time will likely default to the TSS program. Timing will play a key part of this as a skill assessment report takes on average, three months to process. This, coupled with the RCB processing, will delay the process. After arriving on the TSS, employees can then transition to the 494 once they are able to satisfy the requirements.