A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush

January 24, 2020
Myer Lipschitz

These days those wanting to immigrate to Australia are increasingly having to compromise on the type of visa they apply for and having to “settle” for a visa that affords lesser rights than those that they would ideally prefer to have. This has prompted me to use the expression mentioned in the title of this blog more and more these days in consultation with those wanting to immigrate to Australia.

So many people express a preference for the points tested skilled independent visa (189 PR visa), perhaps because a friend or family member had used this visa to immigrate to Australia in the past. Or because they like the thought of a visa that doesn’t require ‘sponsorship’ of any kind, is valid for five years and enables one to immigrate to any part of Australia. When put like that, what’s not to like?

These days however obtaining a 189 visa is a bit like attending a Mexican party, having too many tequilas and trying to hit the piñata with a blindfold. In other words, very difficult to predict the required points score, and even more difficult to obtain.

The points for the 189 PR visa sit around 95, which is almost impossible for most people. It has almost been designed for those that have studied in Australia. Australia has provided incentives to international students to study in Australia by giving them certain bonus points for study towards an Australian degree, points for study in regional Australia, completion of a professional work year, and points for one year of work experience in Australia.

It’s very difficult for anyone else based overseas who hasn’t studied in Australia to compete with the point scores that these onshore international students could potentially obtain. As a result highly qualified and experienced skilled migrants with maximum points for age, english, and work experiences simply cannot get the points required.

Part of the problem is that 42% percent of the annual quota of 189 visas has been allocated to regional state-sponsored visas, and because the 189 visa is a function of limited supply and high demand passmarks have reached impossibly high levels. Four years ago we were successfully processing significant numbers of clients for 189 visas at 60 points, today one needs a minimum of 95 points.

I don’t think that anyone should be contemplating a move to Australia expecting a subclass 189 visa and should always rely on our “backup plan”. That plan is a state-sponsored visa as it is the most likely option as these visas have a fixed pass mark of 65 points (although some states will insist upon higher point scores for certain occupations before they agree to sponsor).

There are essentially two state-sponsored visas the subclass 190 visa and the subclass 491 visa. The first is a permanent resident visa (just like the 189) and the second is what we call ‘work to residence or temporary residence).

The 190 visa allows one to live and work anywhere in Australia although an undertaking is made to the sponsoring state to live and work in that state for a period of two years.

The 491 visa is a regionally sponsored visa with conditions. These include the requirement to live and work in regional Australia (any part of Australia excluding metropolitan Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) and work for a period of three years earning a minimum gross income of AU$53,900 for each of those three years before one can then apply for permanent residence. The permanent residence process is not overly complicated nor prolonged.

State sponsorship of the 491 visa is worth more points and perhaps more significantly, increasingly many more states will sponsor occupations for the 491 visa than the 190 visa. It’s generally therefore an “easier” visa to obtain.

Given the fact that the 189 visa is off the table for most applicants and given a choice of state-sponsored visas, most applicants would of course prefer the 190 visa rather than the more restrictive 491 visa. The question arises how long is one prepared to wait for either a 189 or 190 visa when the 491 visa is the one that is more readily available because it’s the easier one to obtain.

At what point do you decide to take the bird in the hand (the 491 visa) as opposed to hoping, for hope is what you are signing up for, for one of the other two types of general skilled migration visa?

The 491 visa allows you to live and work anywhere in Australia that is regarded as regional (and regional should not be confused with rural). Each member of the family unit is covered for state funded healthcare (Medicare), children can attend primary and secondary schools at the same rates that Australian citizens can and both spouses have full work rights. There is no requirement for the main applicant to work at all, let alone work in their ‘nominated occupation.

I think the 491 visa should be seriously considered, if only because for many people in 2020, it is the only credible option. The reality is many of our clients don’t want to live in the larger cities of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. One reason is property prices are considerably higher in these cities (the median house price in Melbourne is AU$850,000 and in Sydney the median house costs 11 times the median salary). Both Melbourne and Sydney are groaning under the pressure of too many people so the smaller capital cities (with between 1 million and two million people – we aren’t talking villages here) offer a superior work/life balance. Adelaide, Canberra, Gold Coast, Perth and Hobart (to mention a few) are regarded as ‘regional’ under the policy.

In fact the 491 shouldn’t be called a ‘regional’ visa, it should be called a ‘stay from the Big 3’ visa.

Many Australians are opting to move out of the ‘big 3’ cities to take advantage of all that regional Australia has to offer, so we suggest our clients do likewise – if the priority is to secure a future in Australia.

At the end of the day the visa that you apply for has to meet your objectives and if it is your intention to settle in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane, the 491 visa is not for you. Equally the possibilities of being allowed to settle in one of the big three cities is being increasingly restricted by design.

If you want a visa that provides a definitive pathway to permanent residence and gets you to Australia in the shortest possible time the 491 certainly is our ‘go to’ option these days as it very much represents little and to us is ‘the bird in your hand’.

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