WHAT DO THE NOVEMBER CHANGES TO THE POINTS TEST REALLY MEAN?
20 Jun 2019
In November the Department is pushing several of the bonus points up by an average of 5 points, as well as introducing a couple of new points areas. So, the question needs to be asked: why after several years of disadvantageous changes, is the Department now being so generous with the points test? Is this a genuine positive change for the Migrant, or, are more sinister changes still in the pipeline?
To try to answer these questions, we need to look at the context of the proposed changes which were published on the 4th of April 2019 in the Migration Amendment (New Skilled Regional Visas) Regulations 2019 [F2019L00578]. The main purpose of this legislation change (which will only come into force on the 16th of November) is to close the current Regional visas and replace them with new ones;
• the subclass 489 Skilled Regional (Provisional) Visa being replaced by subclass 491 Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) Visa;
• the subclass 187 Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (Permanent) Visa being superseded by the subclass 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) Visa;
• and the Regulations will introduce a new visa subclass 191 Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional) Visa, which will become the correct ‘upgrade’ application to Permanent Residence from the new Regional (491 & 494) visas.
The Australian Government has been talking about promoting visas for Regional areas of Australia, in the press, for several years now. These changes were then finally introduced in the week before the recent Australian elections were announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Ironically, this announcement was delayed by a week, coinciding with the publication of this legislation. So, there is an outside chance that these changes were a bit rushed and not entirely thought through. It wouldn’t be the first time we have seen haphazard changes to the Australian skilled visa system over the last few years.
Coupled with these Regional visa reforms, the Migration Amendment also makes changes to the General Skilled Migration points test to affect all points-based visa subclasses (189, 190 and 491). On the whole, the points test will remain the same and besides some definition changes the following amendments to the points will be made:
• Regional State Nomination or Family Sponsorship points will increase from 10 to 15 points.
• Special education points (Australian STEM study) will increase from 5 to 10 points
• Claiming points for a partner’s skills assessment will increase from 5 to 10 points*
• Single applicant (or with Australian or PR partner) points will be added allowing a 10 point claim*
• Non-skilled Partner with competent English points will be introduced allowing a 5 point claim*
*It is important to note that the last three items are listed under the same section of the points test and that applicants will only be able to claim one of them (if possible).
On the face of it, these points changes look like a windfall for many applicants, but perhaps we shouldn’t get too excited until we know what the points threshold will ultimately be, come November 2019.
At the moment the official points threshold is 65 points, with a practical invitation threshold of around 80 points for the 189 and 489 Family sponsored visas. Pro Rata (or High Demand) occupation groups for some IT, Engineering and accounting occupations may have even higher invitation thresholds given the fluctuations in these, and the overall threshold. Granted, at the time of writing ITA numbers are probably at an all-time low, with just 110 for the aforementioned categories being invited per month, affecting the high ITA thresholds.
The big question on our minds is, given the average 5 points increase on the bonus points listed above, will the official threshold be increased by 5 points to 70 points or more? Or, will it remain the same with the Invitation thresholds being held at much higher levels for 189 and 491 Family sponsored visas, as they currently are?
We expect that an average of approximately 1000 ITAs per month from July, give the targets published for 2019-2020. So, it is plausible that the high Invitation thresholds for general and pro rata occupations could gradually recede, but it could take some time to do so.
It is our opinion that the context of the Migration Amendment Regulations that will introduce these points changes is important. The intention is to divert more migrants to regional areas of Australia on the 491 visas. If this is the Department's plan, then surely keeping the official threshold at 65 points is counter-intuitive. This would also go against the limiting nature of the adverse changes that have been introduced over the years, as throwing more bonus points into the equation without a point threshold increase will only seek to make more applicants eligible to apply to an already oversubscribed system.
Whatever the case may be regarding the official points threshold, I think it is safe to assume that the artificial Invitation thresholds will be regulated to remain high for the subclass 189 and 491 (family) visas. If applicants can make use of these new bonus points to climb above thresholds and get invited that will be great, and we do think that the new bonus points will help many migrants do so.
For applicants that don’t meet these artificial thresholds, State Nominated visas will be the next best bet for most prospective migrants, and perhaps we can expect an emphasis to be placed on the 489 and new 491 visas in the new State Migration plans (or State Nomination lists) that will be published this July. This could be a good and bad news scenario for 491 applicants.
The good news is that the new Regional visas (491 & 494) will be 5 year provisional visas (not 4 years as the 489 visa is), with the Regional Areas being redefined to include all areas of Australia, besides Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane & the Gold Coast. The bad news being that applicants will be required to work and live in the Regional area for 3 years before they can apply for the upgrade to the permanent 191 visa, before they can live and work anywhere in Australia. Currently, this can be applied for in as little as 2 years on the 489 Regional Skilled visas, with only having to work for 12 months within this period.
In conclusion, the additional bonus points will be well received by prospective migrants and will provide a much-needed points injection to get over the various thresholds that applicants will no doubt face. What these thresholds will be set to remains unclear, but we should hopefully have the full picture on this by November. We are hopeful that the official threshold will remain 65, allowing more people to pursue the Australian dream, but this is doubtful. For most applicants, State nomination will continue to be the mainstay of the points tested skilled migration system. Therefore, knowing your State options, eligibility criteria, and processing timeframes will be vital to the success of most prospective applicants. If the 491 State Nominated visas are going to be favoured by the Department, and the States/Territories, we can only hope that there will some sort of fast-track processing that will make this form of State nomination more certain, and quicker, for applicants. Our ultimate hope is that November will bring much needed positive change to the Australian points tested application system, but until we know what the thresholds are likely to be, the jury is out on the matter. To mix a metaphor… don’t count your points before they hatch.
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