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Studying in Regional Australia and What This Means For Your Visa

While many students opt to study in Australia’s biggest cities, the Australian Government is keen to encourage international students to head to regional areas. Not only does this help boost local economies and minimise pressure on major cities, but it can also offer students a really fascinating experience that’s often far removed from what they’re used to back home.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of studying in a regional area and regional visas for Australia, we’ve put together a handy guide. 

What is a designated regional area?

The majority of locations outside Australia’s big cities (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) are considered designated regional areas for migration purposes. The regional area definition has three categories, but only two of these offer incentives for international students to continue living, working and studying in regional Australia.

  • Category 2 includes the ‘Cities and Major Regional Centres’ of Perth, Adelaide, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, Canberra, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, Wollongong and Illawarra, Geelong and Hobart. 
  • Category 3 includes ‘Regional Centres and Other Regional Areas’ and refers to anywhere outside of the areas listed above. 

As an example of how many opportunities there are for international students to study in regional areas, CQUniversity – Australia’s largest regional university – has campuses across Queensland (including Rockhampton, Cairns, Mackay, Gladstone, Bundaberg and Townsville), as well as in major regional centres, Perth and Adelaide. You will also find campuses in the non-regional capitals of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Why study in a regional area?

Education providers located in regional Australia give you the opportunity to explore the ‘real Australia’ outside of the big capital cities. Other benefits include a quieter lifestyle, a smaller, more intimate university experience, beautiful natural landscapes to explore and additional opportunities for migration.

International students studying in regional areas also have access to a wide range of student support and safety services. This can range from health and welfare, learning support and careers and employability advice, to exclusive scholarships only available to students in regional areas.

As an international student studying a bachelor’s degree or higher in a Category 2 regional area, you’re entitled to priority processing of your regional visa, access to the Regional Occupations List (which has more jobs to choose from compared to non-regional lists) and an additional year in Australia on a post-study work visa once you graduate. If you’re in a Category 3 regional area, you’ll enjoy all of these benefits as well as access to 11,200 dedicated regional migration places, an additional year in Australia on your post-study work visa once you graduate (so two years total) and priority in negotiating region-specific Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMA).

A DAMA is an agreement between the Australian Government and a regional authority. It offers regional employers more overseas workers than the standard skilled migration program. DAMAs provide flexibility for regions to respond to their unique economic and labour market conditions, which in turn means more job opportunities in regional areas for international graduates.

What happens when I graduate?

When you graduate from a regional university, there are several regional visas for Australia to consider.

The Temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485) – which has a Graduate Work stream and a Post-Study Work stream – allows international students to remain in Australia for up to several years after they graduate. Students who graduate from regional universities can stay in Australia on a second Temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485), as long as their first Temporary Graduate visa was in the Post-Study Work stream. This is a good option for students who wish to extend their stay and work towards achieving permanent residency. 

Other visas you can apply for include the Working Holiday visa, which allows people between 18 and 30 years old to work in Australia for up to 12 months, or a second student visa to continue your studies. If you’re keen to travel instead of work or study, you can apply for a Visitor visa

Visa conditions are subject to change, so make sure you keep up to date via the Department of Home Affairs website.

Are there regional migration incentives?

In November 2019, the Australian Government announced changes to the immigration program to strengthen the economy and boost regional areas. 

Australia’s regional migration program includes two Skilled Regional (Provisional) visas that provide a pathway to permanent residency, the Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional) visa (from November 2022), additional points under the Skilled Migration Points Test for skilled migrants who want to live and work in regional areas, and a bigger range of options for international students who graduate from regional universities. 

Are there regional skilled visas if I want to work in Australia after graduating? 

There are currently two skilled regional provisional visas available to skilled migrants, including international student graduates, who want to live and work in regional Australia:

Where can I find visa support?

Your education provider may be able to provide general information to help you with the visa process. Most universities have dedicated international student services, which offer a comprehensive guide to everything you need to prepare ahead of your move to Australia, as well as information on the visa system and where to find a Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA)-registered immigration agent should you need one. You can also find student visa information and regional migration visa details on the Australian Department of Home Affairs website

Make sure to only take visa advice from a registered agent or the Department of Home Affairs to avoid scams and ensure your visa information is safe, current and accurate.