Over the weekend, the Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon Alan Tudge MP, released a number of announcements regarding concessions and options for temporary visa holders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These concessions differ depending on the type of visa held.

Temporary Skilled visa holders (subclasses 482 and 457)

Employer sponsored temporary subclass 482 or 457 visa holders and their employer sponsors are subject to obligations in respect of the employment, in particular:

  • Visa holders are required, under their visa conditions, to remain employed under the same conditions as when their visa was approved. Importantly, this means that they are required to work a certain number of hours and earn a certain annual salary; and
  • Employer sponsors of these visa holders must ensure that their sponsored workers remain working in their role full-time and are paid the salary that was approved at the time they were sponsored.

The announcement on the weekend included the following concessions for workers and employers during the COVID-19 pandemic who may no longer be able to meet their respective obligations:

  • Subclass 482 and 457 workers who have been stood down but remain employed will be able to maintain their visa validity without breaching their visa conditions or the sponsor breaching their obligations. They will also have the opportunity to extend their stay by applying for a further visa if they meet the normal requirements.
  • Subclass 482 and 457 workers will also maintain their visa validity if their hours are reduced without breaching their visa conditions or the sponsor breaking their obligations.
  • Temporary skilled workers facing financial hardship will be able to access up to $10,000 of their Australian superannuation.
  • If a worker has been made redundant or laid off, they are expected to leave Australia if they are unable to find a new employer in line with their visa conditions. However, if in the future they are sponsored to return to Australia, their original time in Australia on a subclass 482 or 457 visa will be considered in their eligibility for a permanent visa stream, such as the subclass 186 visa.
  • Temporary visa holders who are unable to depart Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions should consider their eligibility for a further visa, such as the COVID-19 Pandemic Temporary Activity Visa discussed below.

Visitor visa holders

Visitor visa holders have been advised to return to their home country as soon as possible.

Visitor visa holders who are unable to depart Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions should consider their eligibility for a further visa, such as the COVID-19 Pandemic Temporary Activity Visa discussed below.

International Students

The Department has advised that international students who have been in Australia for less than 12 months are expected to be able to support themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because they were required as part of their visa application to declare that they had the financial resources to support themselves for at least 12 months.

International students who have been in Australia longer than 12 months will be able to access up to $10,000 of their Australia superannuation. International students currently working in aged care or as nurses will be able to work more than 40 hours per fortnight without being in breach of their visa conditions.

International students currently working in supermarkets with extended hours will be expected to return to working 40 hours a fortnight from 1 May 2020, as more Australians are recruited for these roles.

New Zealanders on subclass 444 visa

The majority of New Zealanders in Australia hold a subclass 444 visa.

All subclass 444 visa holders will have access to the JobKeeper payments provided they meet the other eligibility requirements.

Subclass 444 visa holders who arrived in Australia prior to 26 February 2001 will also have access to Centrelink benefits and the JobKeeper payment as 'Eligible New-Zealand Citizens'.

Subclass 444 visa holders who have lived in Australia for 10 years or more will have access to the JobKeeper payment and JobSeeker payments for six months.

Working Holiday visa holders

Working Holiday visa holders who are currently working in health, aged and disability care, agriculture or food processing will be exempt from the limitation to only work for an employer for six months. They will also be eligible for a further visa if their current visa is due to expire in the next six months.

If Working Holiday visa holders are moving to a different region for employment, they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Other Working Holiday visa holders will be expected to depart Australia on expiry of their visa, unless they apply for a further visa onshore.

Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme workers

Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme workers will be able to extend their stay in Australia for up to 12 months to work for approved employers, provided that pastoral care and accommodation need are met (including social distancing measures).

Priority must still be given to Australian workers to fill labour shortages.

If workers are moving to a different region for employment, they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

All Temporary visa holders

All temporary visa holders, apart from international students who have been here less than 12 months, will have the ability to access up to $10,000 of their Australian superannuation if they require financial support.

If unable to depart Australia

If a temporary visa holder is unable to depart Australia by their visa expiry date due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they should first consider whether they are eligible for any further visa onshore.

If they are not eligible for any of the existing visa options, they can then consider applying for the subclass 408 visa.

The Department of Home Affairs has released a special stream of the visa, the COVID-19 Pandemic Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Visa.

To be eligible for this visa, applicants must:

  • Be either unable to depart Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions; or required to stay in Australia to assist in critical sectors including healthcare, disability and aged care, childcare and agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Have 28 days or less remaining on their current substantive visa (or have had a substantive visa expire within the last 28 days);
  • Have no other visa options available to them; and
  • Meet all other visa requirements.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Visa has only just been released and full details of this program are not yet available.