MM COVID-19 Update 6 April 2020: Coronavirus and Temporary Visa Holders

MM COVID-19 Update 6 April 2020: Coronavirus and Temporary Visa Holders

New Announcements and Federal Government Media Release

On Saturday, 4 April 2020, the Acting Minister of Immigration, the Hon. Alan Tudge MP released a media statement regarding the future of temporary visa holders amidst the ongoing global concern. The Government is making a number of changes to temporary visa holder arrangements during the coronavirus crisis in order to protect the health and livelihoods of Australians, support critical industries, and assist with the rapid recovery post the virus.

Background

According to Department statistics, there are 2.17 million people presently in Australia on a temporary visa.

The announcement begins by stating that “all were welcomed to Australia on a temporary basis for different reasons including to fill skills shortages; to study as full fee-paying international students; to visit family and friends; or to work and holiday.

[Temporary Visa Holders] are an important part of our economy and society. For example, there are over 8,000 skilled medical professionals on temporary visas supporting our health system right now.”

While citizens, permanent residents and many New Zealanders have access to unconditional work rights and government payments (including the new JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments), temporary visa holders do not.”

For temporary visa holders such as sponsored temporary workers and students, there has always been an expectation that temporary visa holders “are able to support themselves while in Australia.” 

The changes announced on 4 April 2020 will help facilitate this for those who may be stood down or lose work hours as a result of the coronavirus. 

The media release states that “in line with changes being made for Australian citizens and permanent residents, most temporary visa holders with work rights will now be able to access their Australian superannuation to help support themselves during this crisis.  

Temporary visa holders who are unable to support themselves under these arrangements over the next six months are strongly encouraged to return home. For these individuals it’s time to go home, and they should make arrangements as quickly as possible.”

However, if you form part of the key industries such as health, aged and disability care, agriculture and food processing, there have been certain changes which are geared toward enabling temporary visa holders to remain in such roles as such workers can help boost front line health numbers, get food from farms to our shops and ensure critical services continue.

The release acknowledges that temporary visa holders are “extremely valuable to the Australian economy and way of life, but the reality is that many Australians will find themselves out of work due to the dual health and economic crisis we’re currently facing, and these Australians and permanent residents must be the Government’s number one focus.”

While we question how migrant workers will be able to continue to support themselves amid being stood down from their role and no longer being able to rely on super, the information surrounding Bridging Visa A holders, awaiting the outcome of a permanent visa onshore, remains even more uncertain and limited at this stage. Examples include those awaiting the outcome of a Partner (subclass 820/801) visa or a Skilled Nominated (subclass 190) visa.

Visa changes

“The following new measures will apply to the major classes of temporary visa holders. The situation will be reviewed periodically and further changes made if required.”

Visitor visa holders

“There are 203,000 international visitors in Australia, typically on a visa lasting three months or less.”

The recent release advises that international tourists “should return to their home country as quickly as possible, particularly those without family support.”

We understand that many flights have been cancelled and some countries have actually closed their borders completely. If you have been affected by travel restrictions, airport or border closures and you wish to extend your stay in Australia, we urge you to contact our office today to discuss how you can waive the ‘no further stay’ condition (e.g. 8503) and apply for an onshore visitor (subclass 600) visa extension.

International students

“There are 565,000 international students in Australia, mainly studying in the higher education or vocational education sector. They are an important contributor to our tertiary sector and economy, supporting 240,000 Australian jobs.

Students are encouraged to rely on family support, part-time work where available and their own savings to sustain themselves in Australia.  The release notes that as part of their visa application, international students have had to demonstrate that they can support themselves completely in their first year (such as access to significant savings, or parental financial assistance).

Students who have been here longer than 12 months who find themselves in financial hardship will be able to access their Australian superannuation.

The Government will undertake further engagement with the international education sector who already provide some financial support for international students facing hardship. For example, we understand there are some education providers that are providing fee discounts to international students.

The Government will also be flexible in cases where Coronavirus has prevented international students meeting their visa conditions (such as not being able attend classes).

International students are able to work up to 40 hours per fortnight.

International students working in aged care and as nurses have had these hours extended to support these critical sectors.

International students working in the major supermarkets had also had these hours extended to help get stock on shelves during the high demand. From 1 May, their hours will return to the maximum 40 hours a fortnight as more Australians are being recruited into these roles.”

New Zealanders on 444 visas

“New Zealanders and Australians have reciprocal arrangements whereby we can each stay and work in each other’s country. There are more than 672,000 New Zealanders in Australia on a subclass 444 visa.

New Zealanders who are on 444 visas and arrived before 26 February 2001 will have access to welfare payments and the JobKeeper payment.

444 visa holders who arrived after 2001 have access to the JobKeeper payment. Those who have lived in Australia for 10 years or more have access to JobSeeker payments for six months.

New Zealanders should consider returning to New Zealand if they are unable to support themselves through these provisions, work or family support.”

Temporary Skilled visa holders

“There are around 139,000 temporary skilled visa holders (Subclass 457 and TSS Subclass 482 visa holders), on either a 2 year or 4 year visa.  They were provided the visa to fill a skills shortage – a shortage that may still be present when the crisis has passed.

Consequently, those 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.”

This is a very important update for many businesses who are concerned that they would be unable to meet the guaranteed annual earnings requirement or Temporary Sponsored Migrant Income Threshold (TSMIT).

“These visa holders will also be able to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation this financial year.

The Government has advised that those visa holders who have been laid off due to coronavirus should leave the country in line with existing visa conditions if they are unable to secure a new sponsor.  

However, should a 4-year visa holder be re-employed after the coronavirus pandemic, their time already spent in Australia will count towards their permanent residency skilled work experience requirements.”

Please contact our office as soon as possible if you believe you will be affected by these changes.

Working holiday makers supporting critical sectors

“There are about 118,000 people in Australia on a Working Holiday visa (or backpacker visa) – a visa which provides conditional work rights.

To support the critical sectors of heath, aged and disability care, agriculture and food processing, and childcare, some limited flexibility will be provided.

In particular, working holiday makers who are working in these critical sectors will be exempt from the six month work limitation with the one employer and eligible for a further visa to keep working in these critical sectors if their current visa is due to expire in the next six months.

In general, working holiday makers that do not have the confidence to sustain themselves over the next six months should make arrangements to leave the country.

There are another 185,000 other temporary visa holders in Australia, about half of them temporary graduate visa holders. They will also be able to access their Australian superannuation if needed for support.

Further updates to come

Further announcements will be made with the Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister in relation to supporting the agricultural sector, including the operation of the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme.” 

We support the announcements of the Acting Minister of Immigration and kindly request businesses or individuals to seek advice at the earliest if they believe they will be impacted by these changes.

As highlighted above, the circumstances for Bridging Visa holders who have made applications for permanent visas remains uncertain and we hope to provide further clarification when this information is released by the Department.

Information provided in quotations has been provided verbatim from the release. 

Source of Information via Media Release:: https://minister.homeaffairs.gov.au/davidcoleman/Pages/Coronavirus-and-Temporary-Visa-holders.aspx

Author: George Botros – Immigration & Global Mobility Division Manager – Melbourne  MARN: 1799679

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