COVID-19: Here’s what temporary visa holders in Australia should know

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One word being used often these days is ‘unprecedented’ and rightly so. In recent history, we have not faced a time quite as uncertain and unusual as right now.

This uncertainty is arguably the largest among foreign nationals in another country, whether this be visitors or temporary residents. There is confusion around what to do about renewing visas, and whether it’s best to stay or leave.

The Australian Government has thankfully published clear guidelines on visa extensions, who can stay in Australia and under what circumstances, and when it’s advised or necessary to leave the country.

At the same time, the Government has also published a number of changes to temporary visa holder arrangements during the coronavirus crisis. These changes are geared towards enabling temporary visa holders to remain in key industries, such as health, aged and disability care, agriculture, and food processing.

Below we’ll address the guidelines and changes, as set out by the Government, for all temporary visa holders. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Visitor visa holders

If you are in Australia on a visitor visa, you should return to your home country. If you are unable to do so, you must maintain a valid visa and follow Australia’s public health advice in respect to COVID-19.

Should you have a visa with a ‘No Further Stay’ condition that is valid for less than two months, you can request a waiver of this condition. The waiver will enable you to lodge a new visa application.

Employer Sponsored Temporary Work visas

The economy is suffering heavily under the coronavirus. Many business have to let go of employees or rethink the way their employees work. Here’s how you’ll be affected as a Temporary Skill Shortage visa holder if your employer is in this type of predicament at the moment:

You’re working less hours

You will not be in breach of your visa conditions if your employer has reduced the hours you are working. Neither will your employer be in breach of their employer obligations.

You’ve been stood down

If you’ve been stood down, but not laid off, you must maintain your visa’s validity. Your employer will have the opportunity to extend your visa as per the normal regulations.

You’ve lost your job

Should you lose your job due to the coronavirus – and we sincerely hope that you don’t – you must find another job within 60 days. Failing that, you’ll have to make arrangements to leave Australia.

If you cannot return to your home country, you must maintain a valid visa and adhere to Australia’s public health advice while still in the country.

International students

The Government is encouraging international students to rely on family support, part-time work where available and their own savings to sustain themselves in Australia. If you are unable to support yourself through these means, you must make arrangements to return to your home country.

While the Government is strict on students having to meet the financial requirement of their visas, they are relaxing some student visa conditions where the coronavirus and associated travel restrictions have prevented students from meeting conditions. For example, such as attendance at class or the use of online learning.

One other arrangement the Government is changing, is around working hours – specifically for students working in essential sectors.

Students working in essential sectors can now work for longer hours

The Australian government has temporarily relaxed the enforcement of the 40-hour work limitations for the following sectors:

  • International students who are existing workers in major supermarkets to help get stock on shelves due to high demand.
  • International students who are existing workers in the aged care sector.

Student visa holders who are enrolled in nursing can undertake work to help and support the health effort against COVID-19 as directed by health officials.

Here’s how to get approval for longer working hours

If you’re working in a supermarket, and you’d like to work longer hours, your employer must register with the Department of Home Affairs to get access to the temporary relaxation of working hours. Aged care service providers should refer to the correspondence provided to them by the Department of Health.

New Zealand 444 Special Category Visa (SCV)

There are more than 672,000 New Zealanders in Australia on a subclass 444 visa. This visa allows New Zealanders to live and work in Australia.

If you are a New Zealander who’s in Australia on a 444 visa and you arrived before 26 February 2001, you’ll access to welfare payments and the JobKeeper payment.

However, if you arrived after 2001, you’ll only have access to the JobKeeper payment. You’ll be entitled to six months of JobSeeker payments if you’ve been in Australia for 10 years or more.

If you are unable to support your financially through these provisions, work or family support, the government advises that you should consider returning to New Zealand.

Working Holiday makers

To support the critical sectors of health, aged and disability care, agriculture, food processing, and childcare, the government is providing flexible arrangements with regard to ongoing employment of Working Holiday Makers (WHMs):

WMHs working in critical sectors will be:

  • Exempt from the six month limitation with one employer; and
  • Eligible for a further visa to continue working in these sectors if their current visa is due to expire in the next six months.

If you are a WHM in any of the listed critical sectors but you are not eligible for a further WHM visa and you’re unable to return to your home country, you can apply for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream visa.

In the event that you are on a WHM visa but you’re unable to support yourself while in Australia, you must make arrangements to return to your home country.

Seasonal workers

Just like Working Holiday Makers, seasonal workers who work in the critical agriculture sector will be able to extend their visas. This extension will be for up to six months and subject to Labour Market testing.

Further to this, seasonal workers in Australia will be exempt from the requirement to work for a single employer. Instead, seasonal workers will be able to move between approved employers. This will ensure that the needs of the agriculture sector is met at all times during this period.

You can find more information about the arrangements for seasonal workers on the website of the Department of Home Affairs.

Bridging visa holders

The government is urging people with visas that are about to expire to return to their home countries. Especially those people without family support or a means to support themselves financially in Australia.

Of course, not everyone is able to return home. Many people are stuck in foreign countries due to worldwide travel restrictions and border closures.

If you’re in this position and your visa is close to expiry you must apply for a new visa. The new visa will allow you to remain lawfully in Australia.

Your personal circumstances would determine which visa is best. With that said, if your visa expired less than 28 days ago, a bridging visa could be right for you. The bridging visa would allow you to organize your departure from Australia.

You can read more about staying in Australia on a Bridging visa on the website of the Department of Home Affairs.

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