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.
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. Of those there were a total of 22,569 applications (including primary and secondary applicants) on hand from Indian citizens for subclasses 489, 491 and 887.
Ninety percent of these regional visa applications take over two years to get finalized.
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.
“It’s unfair… Subclass 491 applicants have to wait longer than applicants who apply for 189 or 190 visas. They have to wait for a longer duration for the grant and then meet the conditions of living and working in a regional area for a further three years,” she said.
“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).
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.