Australian visa change means permanent residency for skilled workers on 482 medium stream

Skilled migrants who worked in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic but were cut off from applying for permanent residency due to a “sneaky” visa change will now be allowed to stay.
In November last year, (not her real name), a French winemaker who was devastated after finding out she was no longer eligible to become a permanent resident despite living and working in regional Australia for three years. Bridget — who also volunteered for the County Fire Association (CFA) in Victoria — faced having to return to France or find another years-long pathway to be able to stay.
Changes were made to the 482 Temporary Skill Shortage visa on 20 March 2019, but Bridget said she was unaware of them when she applied for her visa months later. It’s unclear how those initial changes were announced and Bridget says she did not see any information about it. She did not realise she could no longer apply for permanent residency until she started her application process three years later.

Bridget was even more shocked because the federal government had since announced it would allow those on the “short-term stream” of the 482 visa – which did not previously give people access to permanent residency – the ability to become permanent residents as a “reward” for staying in Australia during the pandemic if they worked for at least one year.

A woman dressed in a blue uniform stands in front of a red fire truck

Bridget was shocked when she found out she no longer had the option to stay permanently. Source: Supplied

Bridget, who had instead applied for the “medium-term stream” specifically because she thought it already gave people access to permanent residency if they lived in a regional area for three years, was not allowed to apply through the new initiative even though she had also worked throughout the pandemic.

Without access to a pathway to permanent residency, Bridget was contemplating leaving Australia this year when her visa expired. Her other options would be to apply for another temporary visa and hope that in three years the rules wouldn’t change again, or to apply for a different visa while overseas.

Inquiries to the Department of Home Affairs provided no assurance that the situation would change – but this month Bridget was relieved to find out she would now be eligible for permanent residency.

Changes to permanent residency pathway

In a it said it was now expanding the pathway to permanent residency that had first been opened up to short-term Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) subclass 482 visa holders last year.
“In addition to short-term stream TSS visa holders, the government is advising that this pathway is also available to medium-term stream TSS visa holders with an occupation on the Regional Occupation List,” the advice says.
It means that other migrants like Bridget who had been on the medium-term stream will now be able to apply for permanent residency as long as they were in Australia for at least one year between 1 February 2020 and 14 December 2021.

There were 988 people in Australia on 14 December 2021 who held 482 visas in the medium-term stream with a job on the regional occupation list, the department said.

‘I couldn’t believe it’

As with other previous announcements, there was little promotion of the change. Bridget said she first became aware of it through a YouTube video on a channel dedicated to Australian visa news. She found the announcement on the department’s website but it wasn’t until she got a call from her immigration agent that she allowed herself to believe it could be true.
“First I couldn’t believe it, that’s why I always need three sources; to make sure the information is correct,” she said.

And while it is good news for Bridget and other migrants in her situation, she said she had mixed emotions.

A woman sits in a electric buggy in a vineyard

Bridget has been working as a winemaker in Australia for three years. Source: Supplied

“I felt relieved, I still felt angry because I don’t understand why they had to get us through all this stress, anxiety and unknowingness [but] a bit thankful of course because at least they did fix the problem.”

She also questions why it took so long for the government to make the change, given it announced the changes to the short term stream on 1 July, more than seven months ago.

“Why did they take so long to include us? In my opinion, it’s because they forgot us,” she said. “So they’re just trying to fix their booboo, which is good, I’m not complaining, I just don’t understand how this works.”

‘They don’t even explain the laws’

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson told SBS News this week it had advised migration professionals of the latest changes on 13 February. It said it also engaged with the Business, Industry and Regional Outreach (BIRO) network to support Australia’s COVID-19 economic recovery.
“BIROs engage directly with stakeholders across the country to help fill skills gaps where Australian workers are not available, and communicate changes to visa settings,” the spokesperson said.

But Bridget said Australia’s immigration system was complicated, decisions were not communicated widely and easy-to-understand information was not always available.

“The Department of Home Affairs – they just read the same thing that you have on your screen. They do the laws [but] they don’t even explain you the laws,” she said.
Former Department of Immigration secretary Abul Rizvi said over the past decade the Department of Home Affairs had become an organisation where client service was not that important.
“In fact, you could say it was unimportant,” he said. “And as a result it … doesn’t give much priority to effective communications.

“A better organisation would have gone much harder at communicating the change and explaining the change, and promoting the change across a range of media outlets.”

Bridget is now in talks with her current employer to continue her sponsorship while she applies for her permanent residency, something that could take another two years to get.
She said she was happy that she didn’t leave Australia last year and stuck it out in the hope that a solution could be found.
“It takes a big weight off our shoulders, now you can make projects, now you know where your life is heading to, and all this [is] not for nothing.”
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