There are not many visa options for small business owners in Australia. Normally, a business owner would explore the Business Innovation and Investment Visa. However, this option requires the applicant to meet quite onerous financial thresholds relating to their assets and business revenue. Subclass 491 offers small business owners an alternative option when nominated by Tasmania, Queensland or the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). This is a new skilled provisional independent visa, requiring a specific skill set and level of business experience. The visa came into effect on 16 November 2019. Subclass 491 visa holders will be eligible for permanent residency via subclass 191, which comes into effect on 16 November 2022. This article explores the small business owners' pathway in Queensland and Tasmania. To be eligible for this visa, you must meet both the Australian Department of Home Affairs (DOHA)'s and the relevant state's criteria.

DOHA Eligibility Criteria

There are various DOHA criteria that you need to meet. You must:

  • receive an invitation to apply for this visa;
  • receive a State or Territory government agency nomination, which they have not since withdrawn;
  • gain a positive skills assessment in a nominated occupation;
  • have a points test result of 65 points or higher (this includes any points you receive from being nominated by your state);
  • apply before you are 45 years of age;
  • have established 'Competent English' language skills, meaning the equivalent of at least IELTS 6.0 in each band level (the DOHA website specifies the other equivalent test scores); and
  • meet certain health and character requirements.

A skills assessment is issued by the relevant skills assessing authorities. This organisation analyses your skills against the minimum standards for the relevant occupation.

Queensland (BSMQ) Eligibility Criteria

In addition to the DOHA criteria, you must satisfy the requirements for Queensland State nomination. This includes:

  • living and working in the following postcodes 4019–4022, 4025, 4037, 4074, 4076–4078, 4124–4125, 4133, 4183–4184, 4207–4275, 4280–4287, 4300–4301, 4303–4498, 4500–4512, 4514–4519, 4521, 4550–4575, 4580–4895;
  • having an approved occupation;
  • being on an existing visa that allows full-time work and the ability to operate the business for a minimum of 35 hours per week;
  • purchasing an existing business in regional QLD for at least $100,000 that is operational for at least 2 years OR start and operate a new profitable business in QLD for at least 2 years with a turnover of $200,000 in the last 12 months;
  • having 100% ownership of the business, as partnerships and joint ventures are not eligible;
  • trading in the business for at least 6 months;
  • employing one Australian employee who is working 20 hours per week OR two employees working at 10 hours per week; and
  • having sufficient funds to settle in QLD.

QLD will not consider:

  • vendor financing;
  • company share transfer (must have a contract of business sale);
  • applicants who purchase a business from a family member;
  • applicants who relocate or sell a business before receiving approval from QLD;
  • applicants who purchase a business previously owned by a 491-SBO applicant; and
  • commission agents or leasing agents of franchises (such as petrol stations) and home-based businesses (including those with virtual offices).

Applicants must operate their business for at least 3 years in a regional area (after the visa grant) and may be subject to monitoring.

Tasmania Eligibility Criteria

Tasmania nominates eligible applicants through its Business Operator Pathway. To secure state nomination, Tasmania will consider the following:

  • skills assessment related to the current business activities;
  • skills assessment and related employment in a critical role;
  • qualifications related to the current business activities;
  • whether the business has operated for at least 6 months in Tasmania (in some instances, the business needs to operate for at least 12-18 months);
  • an investment of $200,000 in the business operations;
  • business turnover of over $500,000 in the past 12 months;
  • whether the business employs over 10 Australians;
  • whether earnings from the business are at least 85 percent of the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold or higher;
  • whether the applicant has resided in Tasmania for more than 2 years; and
  • whether the applicant has proficient/superior English.

An additional consideration is the nature of the business and its long-term benefit to Tasmania. However, this visa stream is not available for:

  • franchises;
  • passive business investments;
  • service stations and convenience stores;
  • massage therapy outside a hospital, aged or disability care setting or an allied healthcare setting, such as a physiotherapy clinic; and
  • taxi/Uber and food delivery-related businesses.

Online businesses are unlikely to attract Tasmania state nomination.

ACT Eligibility Criteria

To secure ACT state nomination for the 491 Small Business Owner category, you must:

  • be the majority owner (51%) of an eligible registered business located in the ACT;
  • live in Canberra for the last 3 months;
  • work in Canberra as a small business owner in the last 3 months; and
  • commit to living in Canberra.

The following businesses are ineligible businesses for the purposes of ACT state nomination:

  • sub-tenancy,
  • ride-share, taxi, delivery, courier services; and
  • an on-sold business previously used to qualify for ACT nomination.

To claim matrix points in the small business owner category, you must satisfy the following criteria:

  • operate in the ACT for at least 12 months with a minimum turnover of $200,000 or for at least 6 months with a minimum turnover of $100,000 (interstate and overseas businesses will not be considered);
  • the business must be profitable;
  • earn at least $13,000 taxable income in the last three months; and
  • employ at least one Australian citizen, permanent resident or New Zealand citizen for at least 13 weeks (minimum 20 hrs per week).

Application Process

To apply, you will first need to:

  • submit an expression of interest (EOI) with SkillSelect; and
  • select either ACT, Queensland or Tasmania as the nominating state of choice.

You will then need to apply for either ACT, Queensland or Tasmania State nomination. DOHA will then assess your EOI to see if you meet all criteria. If you are successful, you will receive an invitation to apply for the subclass 491. Importantly, you need to lodge the 491 visa within 60 days of receiving an invitation from DOHA.

Length of Visa and Permanent Residency (PR) Pathway

This visa is a provisional visa that allows you to work and live in regional Queensland, ACT or Tasmania for five years. It is also a pathway to permanent residency. After meeting certain criteria, you will become eligible for the subclass 191 permanent residence (Skilled Regional) visa.

These criteria require you to:

  • live in the ACT, Queensland or Tasmania for at least three years; and
  • earn a minimum taxable income of $53,900 for at least three fiscal years.

The subclass 191 visa is a new visa that commences on 16 November 2022, as the subclass 491 visa only commenced on 16 November 2019.

Key Takeaways

There are limited options available for small business owners based in regional locations. The subclass 491 small business owners pathway may be appropriate for your business. Fortunately, it also has a permanent residency pathway through the subclass 191 visa. To apply for this visa, you must:

  • ensure that you satisfy the DOHA and state-based requirements;
  • submit an EOI with DOHA; and
  • if you receive an invitation to apply, submit your application within 60 days.