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COVID-19 & Your Visa Options

COVID-19 & Your Visa Options

Dear Clients & Friends,

As of noon 06 April 2020,  Australia has registered 5,687 COVID-19 cases, with 39 fallen victim to this virus which has so quickly changed the world we live in, perhaps, forever.

Australia is fortunate so far to not be seeing the number of deaths that other countries such as Italy, Spain and the United States are experiencing, however, we will all agree that since the COVID-19 was announced a pandemic by the World Health Organization three weeks ago, there is no part of our society’s socio-economic fabric that remains untouched.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly said that unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, and as seen from the raft of financial support/rescue packages announced by the Australian government, billions are being handed out to families and businesses. This has been tremendously welcomed and it is times like this that I am grateful to be an Australian. However, for the majority of my clients who unfortunately are not permanent residents, citizens or hold special category visas, there is a great degree of uncertainty.

Over the past few weeks, I have been fielding countless calls and emails from our clients, their employers and new enquiries, many extremely worried for their visa situation. Whilst I was holding out in the hope that given the economic and cultural contributions that temporary visa holders make to the Australian way of life and economy, the government would consider extending support to these cohorts. Sad to say, the latest government announcement on 04 April has so far dampened the prospects of the some 2.17 million temporary visa holders in Australia.

Please read the full announcement from Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services & Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge here

I have summarised the announcement with my opinion/advice below:

Visitor Visas (Typically subclass 600, 651, ETAs) 

  • Current 203,000 visitors in Australia
  • Government says you should return home as soon as possible, especially those without family support.
  • My advice is to heed this unless you are in Australia with friends and family who can fully support you for a prolonged period of time.

If your visa is near expiring, please ensure that you apply to extend your stay. Those with condition ‘8503’ – No Further Stay condition should request for a waiver as soon as possible or contact us to assist in this process.

Student Visas (Subclass 500)

  • Currently 565,000 international students in Australia and provide support for 240,000 Australian jobs.
  • Government does not want to lose this cohort as they bring great value to the Australian economy.
  • JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments are not available to students.
  • Students are to seek part-time work, family support and their own savings to sustain themselves in Australia. 
  • Students who have been in Australia longer than 12 months are able to access their Australian superannuation. 
  • Some education providers and universities have offered discounted tuition fees and payment plans to assist students.
  • Students working in aged care and as nurses have work restrictions lifted to support these critical sectors.
  • Students working in major supermarkets have work restrictions lifted until 1st May 2020.
  • Government will be flexible with visa conditions – as to how flexible this remains to be seen due to the changing nature of the virus.
  • Temporary Skilled visa holders (subclass 457, 482)
  • Currently 139,000 temporary skilled visa holders on either 2 or 4 year visas. 
  • If you are temporarily stood down, your visa remains valid and your employer may extend your visa in due course.
  • Sponsoring employers will be able to reduce the hours of visa holders and this will not breach the visa holders’ visa conditions.
  • Temporary workers can access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in the 2019/2020 financial year.
  • Temporary workers who have been permanently retrenched and cannot secure a new sponsor within 60 days are advised to leave the country.
    • They may be re-employed after the pandemic however and be able to count their time already spent in Australia towards their PR requirements.

For those who have been stood down or retrenched, it is a good idea to see what other visa options are available, e.g., partner visa, general skilled migration.

Contact us if you are unsure what options are available.

Working Holiday Visas (WHV Subclass 417, 462)

  • 118,000 in Australia on working holiday visas.
  • WHV holders working in health, aged and disability care, agriculture and food processing and childcare will be waived the six-month work limitation with one employer and will be eligible for a further WHV to keep working in these sectors if their current visa is expiring within 6 months.
  • WHV holders who will struggle to sustain themselves over the next 6 months should return home.

The current reality is that many WHV holders are in limbo, with little or no savings, no employment and unable to afford flights back home. There are many jobs still in regional Australia, however, with state-imposed travel restrictions, visa holders may not be able to go where workers are needed. 

There are many on Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme programme and Agricultural Minister David Littleproud has said that those that work in agriculture or a critical industry will get assistance to move to a work agreement if they agree to meet the agricultural labour demand. Please note: a 14 day self-isolation will be required before commencing work.

Primary producers, state and local governments are encouraged to work together to provide accommodation for these visa holders. 

New Zealanders on 444 Visas

  • Currently 672,000 New Zealanders on Special Category subclass 444 visas
  • Those arriving before 26 February 2001 will have access to welfare payments and the JobKeeper payment.
  • Those arriving after 2001 will have access to the JobKeeper payment only.
  • Those who have lived in Australia for 10 years or more will have access to the JobSeeker payments.
  • Those still unable to financially support themselves should return to New Zealand.

Other Temporary Visa Holders

  • About 92,500 Temporary Graduate visa holders
  • Another 92,500 on other temporary visas
  • Government says they will be able to access Australian superannuation if needed

In addition, a new Subclass 408 (Temporary Activity) visa commenced 04 April 2020 and provides a pathway to extend time in Australia for temporary visa holders who would otherwise be required to leave Australia, however, cannot do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This visa is usually intended for applicants who arrive in Australia to do specific types of work on a short-term, temporary basis.

This stream of the subclass 408 visa will be free to apply however, will only be open to those who are working in critical industries such as agriculture, aged care and public health. Applicants must also continue to engage in this work or have the relevant skills to undertake critical work in relation to the supply of essential goods and services.

This visa will be a welcoming gesture to many already working in the critical industries.

woman with a face mask walking down the street during lockdown

I have been contemplating what the Australian government will do with temporary visa holders at the onset of COVID-19 as it became clear that severe restrictions would be put in place, rendering many businesses paralysed and workers made redundant.

I had hoped that at the very least, given the reliance of these temporary visa holders for many of Australian industries, Australia would at least model their policy on other countries such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom who have provided a blanket extension on temporary visa holders. For example, New Zealand will automatically extend visas for all those on temporary visas before 1st April 2020 until 25 September 2020.

Further, there are many more questions that require answers, especially for the thousands of business with sponsored workers, e.g., should the payment for the SAF levy be waived temporarily, should the requirement on labor market testing and wage limit also be waived as we ride out this pandemic. 

A proportion of these temporary visa holders have also lodged their permanent residency visa application and are awaiting processing. We have noted that there is almost a halt in the processing of all visas and do not expect any permanent residency visa grants in the short term. This is my guess and my guess is based on:

  1. Many case officers being re-directed to other department functions and
  2. Given the current waive on waiting periods, approving permanent residency applications will add to the current social welfare burden. 

Unfortunately, it is clear that at least for now, there is a lack of political will/incentive to make further changes to the current regulations and policies, aside from what has been relayed above. Australia is grappling with the situation as best as it can, though as with any political decision-making, there are winners and there are losers. With the COVID-19 pandemic however, there are no winners.

For now, we end this with our best wishes to you and your family and wish you all the best in health and safety. We will provide further updates as they come and if it impacts our clients in any way.

Please contact us if you require any urgent visa assistance or have any further questions.

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