Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population, Alan Tudge, has announced plans for the Government to introduce new visa conditions that require skilled migrants to live and work outside popular metropolitan areas such as Melbourne and Sydney.

So which visas could be affected by the proposed 5-year metropolitan migration ban, and how is it likely to operate?

The 2018-2019 Migration Program planning levels provide for a total of 190,000 visa places.  The Skill Stream makes up 128,550 of the available 190,000 visa places and is the most likely visa program to be affected by the proposed metropolitan migration ban.

The Skill Stream is comprised of Employer-Sponsored visas, Skilled Independent visas and State and Territory Sponsored visas.  These skilled visa categories could be affected by the proposed metropolitan ban as follows:

Employer-sponsored – 48,250 visa places

The Employer-Sponsored permanent residence stream includes applications where a person is sponsored by an employer in a metropolitan area (subclass 186 visa) and applications where a person is sponsored by an employer in a regional area (subclass 187 visa).

The Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme Subclass 187 visa is a permanent residence visa granted subject to a visa cancellation power under the Migration Act 1958. The cancellation power provides that a Subclass 187 visa may be cancelled if the holder does not work for the regional employer for at least 2 years.  Cancellation powers are discretionary and allow a range of factors to be taken into account.

It is possible that the Government could extend the cancellation power period from 2 years to 5 years to meet its regional objectives.

Skilled Independent – 43,990 visa places

The Skilled Independent program is most likely to be affected by the Government’s proposed reforms.

At present the Skilled Independent Migration category allows highly skilled migrants to settle anywhere in Australia without an employer sponsor based on a stringent Skills Assessment process in their nominated occupation, a targeted Skilled Occupation List, high-level English language skills and achieving a high score on a skilled migration points test.

The Skilled Independent visa program is intended to attract and facilitate the movement of ‘the best and the brightest’ talent from around the world to Australia.

The proposed introduction of forced migrant residency for an extended period (from 2 years to 5 years) in regional Australia would most likely negatively impact the attractiveness of the skilled independent visa category.

While the Government appears to be suggesting the imposition of a visa condition and resulting visa cancellation may be utilised to ‘force’ Skilled Independent migrants to the regions, a more workable solution would be for the Government to reallocate Skilled Independent Migration numbers to the State & Territory Regional Sponsored categories.

Existing State Migration Plan visa programs already allow State and Territory Governments to identify which occupations are required in which regions, specify the skill set of the person and require a job offer in the area and then provide a State or Territory Nomination for a particular visa applicant.

State & Territory & Regional Sponsored – 28,850 visa places

The State and Territory Regional Sponsored category provides visa places for highly skilled migrants selected by a State or Territory Government and nominated for a visa under each of their State Migration Plans.

Skilled migrants selected by a State or Territory Government can be nominated either for a Subclass 190 (permanent residence visa) or a Subclass 489 (temporary visa with a pathway to a Subclass 887 permanent residence visa).

Existing visa pathway from the Subclass 489 Visa to Subclass 887 Visa already available to implement the proposed metropolitan migration ban

The existing legal framework to introduce the proposed metropolitan migration ban is already in place under the State-Sponsored Subclass 489 Skilled Regional Sponsored Visa which leads to Australian Permanent Residence via the Subclass 887 visa.

The Skilled Regional (Provisional) (subclass 489) visa program allows a State or Territory Government to nominate a visa applicant under their State Migration Plan for a 4-year visa.  Once the Subclass 489 visa holder has resided in the specified regional area for at least 2 years and worked full time for at least 1 year, they are then eligible to apply for Australian permanent residence under the Skilled Regional (subclass 887) visa program.

The program provides the States and Territories with the opportunity to ensure there is demand for the intending applicant’s skill in a particular region of their State before they nominate an individual for a regional visa place.

A more robust version of the subclass 489 and 887 visas requiring an increased period of residency and work in regional areas could readily satisfy the Government’s proposed objectives of reallocating greater numbers of skilled migrants to regional Australia for longer periods.

Additional visa places currently available for skilled independent migration could be redirected to the subclass 489 and associated 887 permanent residency pathway, without the need to radically overhaul existing visa programs or reinvent the Australian immigration wheel.