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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Tan


The Australian Government made it easier for highly skilled migrants to stay in Australia to remain employed in critical sectors as Australia’s economy continues to recover.

  • Australia opened its doors for permanent residency to some skilled migrants to address the skills shortage.

  • The government provides visa extensions to eligible regional (temporary) visa holders (subclass 489, 491, and 494)

  • The government set new visa settings for eligible temporary graduate visa holders (subclass 485)

Alex Hawke (Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) said these measures recognize the contributions of skilled migrants who have stayed in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic and encourage them to stay. The primary beneficiaries of the temporary concession, affecting holders of temporary skill shortage 482 visas and the suspended 457 visa holders, are health care and hospitality workers and all occupations on the STSOL list.

The legislation to enable this is currently being developed and will be introduced ‘around the middle of the year’.

These visa changes will improve access to permanent residency if:

  • Existing short-term stream Temporary Skills Shortage (Subclass 482) visa holders

  • Holders of a Legacy Temporary Worked Skilled (Subclass 457) visa who are already outside the the age requirement.

In the past, skilled visa holders in the "short-term" stream were limited to a two-year stay in Australia without a permanent residence pathway (e.g. cook). This will ease the employer's struggle in hiring workers. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the number of vacancies in the hospitality industry has increased by 87%, while the number of vacancies in the healthcare sector has increased by 72%, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Extensions for skilled regional (provisional visa) holders

The government will also extend visas for holders of skilled regional (temporary) visas (subclass 489, 491 and 494), recognizing that this group has been negatively impacted by COVID-19-related travel restrictions.

Current and expired skilled regional provisional visas will be extended, providing additional time to meet regional work requirements for permanent residence,” the Immigration Minister said.

There are currently around 9,000 skilled regional provisional visa holders overseas. These visa holders can enter Australia from 1 December 2021, and they will also be eligible for an extension of their visa,” he said.

Visitor visa applicants overseas

Recognizing the current border measures, the government is extending the visa application fee waiver for an additional six months for new foreign visitor visa applicants whose visas expire or expire between January 1, 2022, and June 30, 2022.

This measure will support the tourism industry by welcoming back visitors once it is safe to do so,” Minister Hawke said.

485 visas

The government also announced visa changes, including providing replacement visas to those whose visas have expired and extending their stay by one year to support hundreds of temporary graduate visa (subclass 485) holders stranded abroad.

Education Minister Alan Tudge and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke have agreed on changes that will allow 30,000 students whose visas have expired after February 1, 2020, to reapply for a new 485 visa of the same duration as the original.

Graduates of the master's program, which numbered 170,000 before the pandemic, can stay for three years instead of two, and vocational graduates can get a temporary two-year visa.

International education strategy

The government has announced additional measures to support the return of international students and graduates by supporting the international education industry through::

  • Allows temporary graduate 485 visa holders who were unable to travel to Australia due to COVID-19 international border restrictions to apply for a replacement visa.

  • Increasing the length of stay on Temporary Graduate visas in the Masters by Coursework and Vocational Education and Training (VET) streams;

  • ​Simplified requirements for temporary graduate visa applicants for VET field graduates; and

  • Expands on existing measures for students and temporary graduates to accounting for time spent abroad to study online to qualify for a temporary graduate visa.

In order to excite interest in Australia as a study destination these student visa flexibilities are welcome,” Mr Honeywood said.

Whether they will be enough to encourage students who are already considering Canada, the UK and US is another question.

The news that vaccinated international students will be able to return to NSW, Victoria and the ACT starting December 1, along with visa reforms, will help alleviate strong disappointments over the $40 billion international student sector in 2019.

However, there are concerns that delays in the reopening of borders will have little effect on attracting new students for the 2022 academic year, as most would have decided where to study months in advance.

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