The Department of Home Affairs has just released a summary of policy updates and information regarding visa programs. There is a range of information available on the Home Affairs website in relation to Australia’s immigration and border arrangements during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak. Several specific links are also included below.
A COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa has been made available within the existing Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa to temporary visa holders in Australia with expiring visas who:
- Are unable to depart and are not eligible for any other visa; or
- Have evidence from an employer that they have ongoing work in a critical sector.
For temporary visa holders in Australia, where their visa is about to cease and they are unable to return home or apply for another visa, the COVID-19 visa is available as a visa of last resort. In these circumstances, the visa will be granted for a period suitable for the individual’s circumstances up to a maximum period of six (6) months.
The Government is taking a flexible approach in relation to student visa conditions where COVID-19 has prevented the visa condition(s) being met (such as course attendance requirements). There has been a temporarily relaxation of the enforcement of the 40 hour work limitation where the student visa holder is:
- Studying a relevant medical course where they are working in support of coronavirus efforts and at the direction of a relevant state or territory health authority;
- Employed at a registered National Disability Insurance Scheme provider; or
- Employed in the aged care sector by an Approved Provider or Commonwealth funded aged care service provider.
See: Staying in Australia and refer to the “I have a Student visa” section – https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/staying-australia#6
Temporary Skilled visa holders
A range of safeguards is already in place to ensure that priority is given to Australian workers and that temporary skilled workers are employed only where a domestic shortage has been identified. It is crucial that the employment of Australians who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 period is prioritised above the employment of temporary skilled workers, where this is possible.
- Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa holders who have been stood down, but not laid off, will maintain their visa validity and businesses will have the opportunity to extend their visa as per normal arrangements. Businesses will also be able to reduce the hours of the visa holder without the person being in breach of their visa condition, or the business being in breach of their employer obligations.
- Temporary visa holders who have been laid off (that is, unemployed) due to COVID-19, should find another employer within 60 days or make arrangements to depart Australia.
- The COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa is also an option as a visa of last resort for those temporary visa holders unable to depart Australia or not eligible for another visa class.
See: Staying in Australia and refer to the “I have a Temporary Skill Shortage visa (subclass 482) or Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457)´section – https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/staying-australia#9
Working Holiday Makers supporting critical sectors
To support the critical sectors of heath, aged and disability care, agriculture and food processing and childcare, some limited flexibility will be provided to Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa holders:
- Working Holiday Makers who are working in these sectors will be exempt from the six month work limitation with one employer.
- Working Holiday Makers who are working in these sectors and meet eligibility requirements should apply for a second or third Working Holiday Maker visa with a 12 month validity.
- Where Working Holiday Makers working in critical sectors are not eligible for a further WHM visa, they can apply for the COVID-19 visa.
See: Staying in Australia and refer to the “I have a Working Holiday Maker visa” section – https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/staying-australia#9
Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme
To support our agriculture sector, temporary visa measures have been introduced to help with the continuity of essential goods and services in response to COVID-19. Since 4 April 2020, visa conditions for Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme have been temporarily relaxed and options provided for these visa holders to extend their stay in Australia for a defined period:
- Seasonal Worker Programme workers with visas due to expire are able to apply for the COVID-19 (subclass 408) visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event visa stream.
- Pacific Labour Scheme workers with visas due to expire can apply for a new Temporary Work (International Relations) (subclass 403) Pacific Labour Scheme stream visa.
- Workers currently in Australia under these programs will also be exempt from the requirement to work for a single employer and will be able to move between approved employers, allowing flexibility and continued support for the agriculture sector in meeting seasonal workforce demands.
- Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme arrangements, including those relating to employers, will be carried over to the new visa arrangements, continuing the link with the agricultural sector.
See: Staying in Australia and refer to the “I am a Seasonal worker or part of the Pacific Labour Scheme” section – https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/staying-australia#9
Bridging Visa holders
Persons whose visas have expired, or are about to expire, should consider returning to their home country if they are able to do so, particularly if they do not have family support. If individuals cannot depart Australia, they must apply for a Bridging Visa (BV) in order to regularise their visa status. Bridging Visa holders will be expected to depart Australia when travel restrictions are lifted.
Persons who cannot resolve their visa status should contact the Department of Home Affairs’ Status Resolution Service (SRS) for assistance. Home Affairs officers can then explain visa options, help plan for departures from Australia and refer visa holders to other services where necessary.
Bridging Visa holders in Australia who are awaiting a decision on their visa application can still remain lawfully in Australia until a decision has been made on their substantive visa application. Bridging Visa holders may have permission to work, depending on the conditions of the Bridging Visa as detailed in the visa grant letter.
Access to Healthcare
People in all states and territories without access to Medicare or health insurance, including temporary visa holders and unlawful non-citizens, are able to access free COVID-19 testing and treatment.
Australian Government support for temporary visa holders
The Government has put into place a number of measures to assist visa holders, including to:
- waive the Newly Arrived Resident Waiting Period for access to certain income support payments;
- provide the JobKeeper wage subsidy for New Zealand citizen employees;
- allow access to up to $10,000 superannuation for most temporary visa holders working in Australia; and
- allocate $7 million in funding to Red Cross to provide emergency relief to temporary visa holders, with temporary visa holders also able to access relief services from other community organisations.
The Red Cross emergency relief funding will provide small one-off emergency relief payments to people on temporary visas who have no way to support themselves and who have urgent needs. The funding will help people meet their basic needs like food, medicine or shelter. The funding will not be available to people who are eligible for State or Territory support for temporary visa holders (except those delivered by the Red Cross). More information is available on the Red Cross website
Other support for temporary visa holders
State and Territory governments are also providing practical and financial assistance for international students and other temporary visa holders, including asylum seekers and temporary protection visa holders. Many student visa holders will also be able to access support from their education provider – universities have announced $145 million in assistance for this group. More information is available on the Study in Australia website:
For a summary of useful information about COVID-19, the Australian border and visa questions – see COVID-19 and the border Frequently Asked Questions – https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/frequently-asked-questions
Individuals can also make contact with Home Affairs COVID19 helpline on 1800 020 080 for specific assistance, and if their visa has expired (or is about to) we would strongly encourage visa holders to make contact with the Department to regularise their status as a priority (which can also be done through their Immi Account online).