COVID-19 – Immigration Special Measures Update

Long anticipated additional measures for temporary visa holders were announced on Saturday 4 April, and are summarised below for the benefit of FCB clients and friends.

Student Visa Holders

International students working in aged care and as nurses have already had these hours extended to support these critical sectors. However, similar concessions for international students working in the major supermarkets will return to the maximum 40 hours a fortnight (whilst their course is in session) given that more Australians are now being recruited into these roles.

New Zealanders on subclass 444 visas

  • New Zealanders who are on subclass 444 visas and arrived before 26 February 2001 will already have access to welfare payments, and meet the residence status required for employers to access the JobKeeper supplement.
  • Subclass 444 visa holders who arrived after 2001 also meet the base residence status to access to the JobKeeper payment. Those who have lived in Australia for 10 years or more have access to JobSeeker payments for six months.
  • The Government recommends that New Zealanders 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 TSS visa holders, on either a 2 year or 4 year (subclass 457 or 482) 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 represents a broad and generous interpretation of the law as it stands.

  • These visa holders will also be able to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation drawdown this financial year if the general eligibility criteria are also met. This may ultimately be on more favourable terms than the tax on superannuation that normally applies to temporary residents permanently departing Australia

However, the Government is at pains to emphasise 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. Nevertheless, where a 4-year visa holder can be re-employed after the coronavirus pandemic, there are plans to amend the legal and policy framework to allow their time already spent in Australia to count towards the qualifying period required for employer-sponsored permanent residence.

Working Holiday Makers supporting critical sectors

  • To support the critical sectors of health, aged and disability care, agriculture and food processing, and childcare, some limited flexibility will be provided. Specifically, working holidaymakers 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.

Again, the Government stresses that those working holidaymakers that do not have the confidence to sustain themselves over the next six months should make arrangements to leave the country.

Temporary Graduate visa holders

Whilst no specific measures have been announced for this group, subclass 485 visa holders will also be eligible to access their Australian superannuation drawdown if they meet the relevant criteria of the programme.We understand that the programme is slated to open in mid-April 2020.

Visitor visa holders

  • Visitors are encouraged to return home if possible, if they stay they will need to support themselves, and extensions would need to be by way of a further application as a visitor onshore which carries a range of criteria that could be applied to deny extensions.

Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme visa holders

Workers holding SWP and PLS visas will have visa conditions relaxed and be given an option to extend their stay for up to one year. Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator Michaelia Cash said this change would bring much needed certainty for employers and workers alike.

Visa holders are reminded that current and future Australian visa applications are subject to stringent health and character tests and any breaches of social distancing and self-isolation rules will be viewed unfavourably during assessment.

If any of the above measures have raised questions or concerns for you or your business, you can arrange a time to discuss these with the FCB Smart Visa team on +612 9922 5188 or at ajk@fcbsmartvisa.com.au