4 Oct 2021

Permanent Residency | Migrating to Australia During the Pandemic

Permanent Residency | Migrating to Australia During the Pandemic

Latest Government statistics show Australia granted 160,052 Permanent Residence Visas in the 2020-21 Migration Program – which equates to 20,000 more visas than the previous year.  

It is encouraging to see the full cap of 160,000 placements was reached as per 2020-21 ceiling planning levels, despite international border restrictions and processing delays. This was due to a greater focus on processing visas for onshore applicants.  

2020-21 Trends and Insights on Migrating to Australia During the Pandemic

Here’s a summary of what the 2020-21 Migration Program figures reveal about Partner Visa and Skilled Visa opportunities for Permanent Residency in Australia during the pandemic.  

Australia’s largest increase in Partner Visa grants in 25 years  

Partner Visas have clearly been prioritised for Government processing as the program delivered Australia’s largest increase in Partner Visa grants in 25 years.  

77,372 places were delivered in the Family Stream, with 72,136 of these granted to Partner Visa applicants.  

49,180 Partner Visas were granted to applicants that were onshore and 23,196 to partners who applied from overseas.  

The approval rate for Partner Visa applications increased from around 90% in previous years to 98% in 2020-21. 

This resulted in Australia’s largest increase in Partner Visa grants in 25 years, which has helped to reduce the queue for Partner Visas.

In usual circumstances, Australia does not grant more than 48,000 partner visas per year.  

At this stage, the current visa processing time is between 21 to 28 months for an Onshore 309 Partner Visa, and 23 to 30 months for an Offshore 820 Partner Visa.  

Permanent Visas mostly granted to onshore applicants – for both Partner and Skilled Visas

Similar to Partner Visas, Skilled Permanent Visas were mostly granted to onshore applicants throughout the program year.

This is a trend our migration agents have seen since the start of the pandemic due to border restrictions and the need to reduce pressure on the international arrivals cap.  

With international border closures making it more difficult to engage overseas talent and the government’s current focus on onshore applications, it is a good time for HR teams and business owners to review their Permanent Residence (PR) policies to retain their overseas employees already working in Australia.  

79,620 permanent visas were granted in the Skill Stream in 2020-21.  

At least 71% of these visas were granted to onshore applicants.  

The highest number of Skilled Permanent Visas were granted to Employer Sponsored Visa applicants, followed by the State and Territory Nominated category and then the Global Talent (Independent) program.  

International border restrictions have certainly impacted the composition of the migration program. The 2020-21 intake comprised an even balance between Family and Skilled Visas Permanent visas as the Government focuses on:  

Facilitating family reunion – such as Partner Visas 

Visas for applicants already in Australia 

Visas to overseas applicants that assist with Australia’s post-pandemic economic recovery.  

At 79,620 permanent Skilled Visas, this was the smallest skill stream since 2004-05. In previous years, the Skill Stream accounted for 70% of the total permanent migration intake.  

The top five occupations to receive a permanent skilled visa in the 2020-21 program year were:  

Registered nurse 

Software and applications programmers 


ICT business and systems analysts  

Civil engineering professionals 

Can you apply for a Skilled Permanent Visa from overseas during the pandemic?

It is still possible to apply for a Skilled Permanent Visa from overseas, however the Government has been prioritising onshore applicants.

This means waiting periods for offshore applications may be longer, unless the overseas applicant has an occupation on the Priority Skilled Migration Occupation List, has ‘Critical Skills’ or will be working in a ‘Critical Sector’. 

Drop in Employer Sponsored Visa applications and grants

Employer Sponsored Permanent Visas grants are linked to the number of people holding Skilled Temporary Visas (such as the Subclass 457 or 482 TSS Visas).

These visa holders may be eligible to apply for Skilled permanent residence after a period of work with their employer.  

There was an 18.5% decrease in Skilled temporary visas granted in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20. This is likely to have contributed to a decrease in Skilled Permanent Visas.  

19,410 permanent Employer Sponsored Visas were granted in 2020-21 compared to 25,410 in 2019-20.  

However, the approval rate for Employer sponsored permanent visas increased from around 85% in 2017-18 to 97.6% in 2020-21.  

In 2020-21, this visa category was mostly used to engage software and applications programmers, registered nurses, accountants, ICT business and systems analysts and university lecturers.  

Regional Employer Sponsored Visa grants fell from 6,221 in 2017-18 to 2,910 in 2020-21.  

Significantly less applications were made – only 3,032 in 2020-21 compared to 17,003 in 2017-18.  

Part of this may have been because the Regional Visa that was in effect in 2017-18 (the Subclass 187 Visa) was replaced by a new Regional Visa (Subclass 494 Visa), which has more strict requirements.  

The approval rate for Regional Employer Sponsored visas increased from around 61.2% in 2017-18 to 93% in 2020-21.

This visa category was mostly used to engage cooks, retail managers and café and restaurant managers in 2020-21. 

Increase in Regional State/Territory Nominated Visa Grants for Independent Skilled Migration

When comparing skilled visas that do not require an employer sponsor, grants for the Regional State/Territory Nominated Subclass 491 Visa significantly increased from 1,500 in 2019-20 to 10,675 in 2020-21.  

State and Territory Governments have increased allocations for these visas in 2021-22 and indicated these would be mostly be used for onshore applicants until the international border opens.  

In 2020-21, this visa category was used for registered nurses, software and applications programmers, accountants, ICT business and systems analysts, medical practitioners and engineers.  

However, there was a decline in grants and applications for Subclass 190 Visas in 2020-21.  

14,268 applications were granted in 2020-21, down from 21,495 in 2019-20.  

Applications fell from 20,512 in 2019-20 to 15,904 in 2020-21.  

Grants for the Subclass 189 Visa also significantly decreased in 2020-21.  

In 2017-18, the Government granted 39,137 of these visas, and only 7,213 in 2020-21. 

Before an applicant can apply for this visa, an applicant first needs to meet several points-tested requirements and receive an invitation from the Government. Less invitations have been issued since July 2020 and invitation rounds have been less frequent. This trend may continue into 2022 until the international border re-opens.  

A continued focus on processing Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP) Visas

In 2020-21, the Government focused on processing a backlog of BIIP Visas.  

11,198 BIIP visas were approved in 2020-21 – the highest level in more than a decade and almost triple the outcome for 2019-20.  

We expect this visa category will continue to be emphasised in 2021-22 to help boost Australia’s post-pandemic economic recovery. 

Global Talent Independent (GTI) Visa Grants Doubled

GTI Visa grants more than doubled from 4,109 in 2019-20 to 9,584 in 2020-21.  

Despite the increase, the 2020-21 outcome was less than the Government’s planning level of 15,000. These visas require an ‘internationally recognised record of exceptional and outstanding achievement’. 

77% of these visas were granted to onshore applicants.  

Could we see a higher rate of overseas applications processed in 2021-22?

While the international border is closed, we expect a continued focus on onshore visa grants, including for Partner Visas. Another 72,000 places have been allocated to Partner Visas in 2021-22.  

Once Australia’s international border re-opens and international arrivals caps are increased, there could be greater scope for overseas-based permanent visas to be granted. 

Business groups are placing pressure on the Government to increase the capacity for overseas arrivals due to worsening skill shortages.  

Should you wish to discuss your Travel exemption or Visa options, we encourage you to contact Immigracious’ Registered Migration Agents for a consultation so that your circumstances can be considered.   


Immigracious’ Registered Migration Agents

SBS News 

Independent Australia 

Sheila Woods

Posted by: Sheila Woods

A very experienced migration agent, Sheila has always been fascinated by this field. Her university degree thesis was on Australia’s post-war immigration history (and it earned her first-class honours).

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