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.
There are 2.17 million people presently in Australia on a temporary visa.
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.
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.
There has always been an expectation that temporary visa holders are able to support themselves while in Australia. The changes announced the 4th of April will help facilitate this for those who may be stood down or lose work hours as a result of the coronavirus.
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.
Changes are also geared toward enabling temporary visa holders to remain in key industries, such as health, aged and disability care, agriculture and food processing.
Importantly, they can help boost front line health numbers, get food from farms to our shops and ensure critical services continue.
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.
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.
International tourists should return to their home country as quickly as possible, particularly those without family support.
If you cannot depart Australia as planned, check your permitted stay period, visa expiry date and visa conditions to make sure you remain lawful in Australia.
Under Australian migration law, it is not possible to extend a visitor visa. You must apply for a new visa before your current visa expires. You can apply to remain in Australia as a visitor unless you are eligible to work, study or join family in Australia.
When you apply for a new visa, you may be granted a bridging visa that will keep you lawful in Australia until a decision is made on your visa application.
Visitor visa conditions
1. No work condition
Visitor visa and ETA holders are not permitted to work in Australia.
2. Visa stay period
The stay period on an existing visa cannot be extended. Your visa will cease if you are still in Australia at the end of your permitted stay period. If you cannot depart Australia within the permitted stay period on your visa, you should apply for a further visa before the date on which your visa ceases.
3. No further stay condition (includes 8503, 8534 and 8535)
If you hold a visa with condition 8503, 8534 or 8535 and cannot depart Australia as planned, you cannot apply for most other visas in Australia unless the condition is waived. You can request to waive this condition if your visa will expire in less than four weeks. If your request is approved, you should make a new visa application before your current visa expires.
4. Condition 8531 (must not remain in Australia beyond the period of stay permitted by the visa)
If you hold a visa with condition 8531 and cannot depart Australia as planned, you should apply for a further visa before the date on which your visa ceases. If you are also subject to condition 8503, you will need to request a waiver of this condition first.
5. Condition 8558 (must not stay in Australia for more than 12 months in any 18 month period)
If you hold a visa with condition 8558 and cannot depart Australia as planned, your visa will cease if you stay in Australia for 12 consecutive months at a time.
If you have been in Australia for 12 cumulative months in an 18 month period, your visa will still remain valid until the visa expiry date.
You should apply for a further visa if your visa will expire before you can depart Australia. If you are also subject to condition 8503, you will need to request a waiver of this condition first.
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. As part of their visa application, international students have had to demonstrate that they can support themselves completely in their first year.
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.
The Government is also taking a flexible approach in relation to student visa conditions where COVID-19 restrictions have prevented conditions being met, such as attendance at class or use of online learning.
If your study in Australia is ending, and you are unable to depart Australia, you can apply for a Visitor visa (subclass 600). You need to do this before your Student visa expires.
If your course is ‘out of session’
You can work unlimited hours if your course is considered ‘out of session’. Courses are considered ‘out of session’ during scheduled course breaks or if a student has finished their course as scheduled.
If you are studying a masters by research or a doctorate course
If you have commenced studying a masters by research or a doctorate course, you may work unlimited hours.
If your course has been deferred
You can work over 40 hours per fortnight if your course has been deferred.
Exemptions for some international students
Certain student visa holders can work for more than 40 hours per fortnight to support the supply of essential goods and services for Australians if they are:
- Employed in the nursing sector
- Employed by registered supermarkets (from 1 May 2020, this changes and students will only be able to work 40 hours per fortnight)
- Employed in the aged care sector
New Zealanders on 444 visas
New Zealanders and Australians have reciprocal arrangements whereby they 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, 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.
These visa holders will also be able to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation this financial year.
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.
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.
VisAustralia still open and working at full throttle
VisAustralia, like the Department of Home Affairs, is continuing to work at full throttle.
We are keen to push the applications of our overseas based clients forward and ensure visas are granted in the shortest possible time. This on-going work will allow you to move to Australia as soon as the travel ban is lifted.
We are also keen to assist people facing visa issues in Australia because of the travel ban. If your visa is expiring, or you have other questions about the impact of the ban on your visa process, please do not hesitate to contact VisAustralia.
We want to reiterate that the travel ban is a short-term measure not related to the process of applying for a visa under the Migration Act 1958. The Australian migration program has a long and stable history and visa processing system will continue. People will continue to be able to migrate to Australia and study in Australia. The closure of the border represents a short-term policy response to what we all hope is a short term health issue.