The COVID-19 pandemic has brought all kinds of challenges since the first case of coronavirus in Australia, especially for immigration. As we start the New Year, even more changes are anticipated for Australian immigration law and below is a summary of the upcoming changes that have been flagged in the news. In the final Part of this series, we cover upcoming changes to the Regional Migration Program and the latest updates to the COVID-19 travel restrictions.

1. Subclass 191 visa due to commence in November 2022

In November 2019, the Australian Government introduced the subclass 491 Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa and the subclass 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) Visa. These visa subclasses provide the State and Territory governments and employers in regional Australia a broader range of skilled occupations for nominations of temporary skilled workers. There are other criteria for this visa, such as relevant work experience, English language proficiency and age limits (unless an exemption applies).

A person who has held the subclass 491 or the subclass 494 visa for at least 3 years and meets a minimum taxable income and other criteria may be eligible for the corresponding permanent visa (the Subclass 191 visa).

It is expected that the Subclass 191 visa will commence in November 2022 as the first batch of visa holders become eligible to apply for permanent residency.

2. Visa extension for subclass 489, 491 and 494 visa holders

On 18 January 2022, the Minister has also announced that subclass 489, 491 and 494 visa holders impacted by COVID-19 travel restrictions will have their visas extended by 3 years. Further details of this arrangement are yet to be announced.

3. COVID-19 related travel restrictions and quarantine requirements

As events of the past 20 or so months have shown, the Australian Government can change the restrictions on travel in and out of Australia at short notice. Additionally, the States and Territories can change their quarantine requirements if necessary to control the spread of COVID-19.

From 21 February 2022, Australia's international border will reopen to all fully vaccinated visa holders. Those who are unvaccinated will need to apply for a travel exemption. The Australian Government hopes the influx of visa holders will help revive the tourism and hospitality sector and alleviate labour shortages around the country. Despite the "reopening" of the border, travellers will be asked to undergo pre-departure COVID testing, complete required paperwork such as the Australia Travel Declaration and follow applicable quarantine requirements from the relevant Australian state or territory that the traveller will enter. For a checklist/overview of these requirements, please click here.

With the possible emergence of new variants of COVID-19, the Australian Government's travel restrictions and quarantine requirements will likely continue to be updated in response to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia and overseas countries. These changes will add complexity for Australian visa holders and Australian citizens/permanent residents wishing to travel in and out of Australia.

Need to catch up on articles one and two of the Australian Immigration Law in 2022 series? Find them here.

Article 1: Australian Immigration Law: What's Changing in 2022? (Part 1) - Working Holiday Maker program, Student and Temporary Graduate Visas

Article 2: Australian Immigration Law: What's Changing in 2022? (Part 2) - New Visa Options for Hong Kong and British National (Overseas) Passport Holders; Australian Agriculture visa

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.