Amid growing calls to boost regional Australia’s population, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has announced increased processing times for the 489, 491 and 887 regional visa categories, which combined have over 52,400 applications awaiting approval.
- Subclass 887 (Skilled Regional visa) is a visa for people who have lived and worked in specified areas of regional Australia on a previous eligible visa.
- Subclass 491 (Skilled Work Regional – Provisional visa) is a visa for skilled people nominated by a state or territory government to live and work in regional Australia.
- Subclass 489 (Skilled Regional – Provisional visa), which is for skilled workers who want to live and work in regional Australia, has been closed to new applicants.
The Regional Australia Institute, an independent think tank, recently suggested that the federal government needs to set a target of 40 per cent for net overseas migration to regional Australia in the next year.
RAI CEO Liz Ritchie, in a media statement said, “The 2022 Population Statement projects that in 2022-23 less than 17 per cent of net overseas migration will flow to regional Australia.”
“Regional Australia deserves a far greater share of Australia’s biggest driver of population growth,” she said.
“At a time when our regional cities and towns are crying out for skills and labour, reaching a record of over 96,000 job vacancies in late 2022, we need to be collectively looking at the systems and processes supporting migrants, so we have more calling regional Australia home.”
The call has come at a time when the DHA has increased the processing times for few regional visa categories but reduced time frames for independent visa categories like Subclass 189.
According to official figures, as of 31 December 2022, there were 52,428 applications on hand for subclasses 489, 491 and 887, including 23,247 primary applicants and 29,181 secondary applicants.
Ninety percent of these regional visa applications take over two years to get finalised.
As of now, the time frame for processing Subclass 887 visa applications is up to 27 months, while that for Subclass 491 visa applications is 30 months.
The most affected subclass has been 489, a visa category that has now been discontinued.
However, for existing applicants of Subclass 489, the DHA has updated the processing times to up to 48 months, a major increase from only eight months in 2019.
More than 13,600 Indian applicants (both primary and secondary) are waiting for migration to regional Australia under Subclass 491, whereas over 7,300 Indians are waiting under Subclass 887.
“The government really needs to work on the processing times for these visas just like they have worked on the processing time for the 189 visa,” she added.
Recently, the DHA reduced processing times for Subclass 189 (an independent visa) to up to three months, while for Subclass 190 (a visa which allows work and study anywhere in Australia) the processing time is up to 15 months.
Furthermore, in December last year, the DHA issued 35,000 invitations (both to offshore and onshore applicants) for the skilled independent visa (Subclass 189).
A DHA spokesperson told SBS Hindi that reducing the number of on-hand visa applications is a priority for the Australian Government and the Department is expanding the pool of visa decision makers to expedite resolution of the backlog of skilled visas.
Processing times are an indication of how long a visa application may take to process and, as per the DHA, this time frame is based on how long it has taken to process recently finalised applications.
It may not guarantee an application will be finalised within this time frame.