What does COVID19 mean for my Australian visa?
2020 is the year of the global pandemic that took the whole world by surprise. Starting in China then slowly spreading to most countries around the world, Covid-19 or Coronavirus has drastically changed life as we know, at least for now. It was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 11 March 2020, only 6 weeks ago. Since then countries closed its borders, locked down its citizens and adjusted many normal activities we used to take for granted. As of 29 April 2020, more than 3 million people have been infected by the virus around the world and the death toll is at 218,000.
Australia is like many other countries who have been affected by this pandemic with thousands of cases (nearly 7,000) and just under 90 deaths. The consequences of this pandemic affected everyone from citizens to travellers to temporary residents. This article will discuss how the Corona virus/ Covid-19 affects you while you are a visa holder in Australia.
Australia travel ban: can I travel in or outside of Australia?
Travelling into Australia
On 20 March 2020, Australia closed its borders to anyone who is not
- An Australian citizen,
- A Permanent resident: i.e. the holder of a permanent visa such as the following Subclasses: 186, 187, 189, 155, 100, 101, 102, 103, 114, 116, 117, 124, 132, 143, 200, 801, 802, 804, 835, 836, 837 838, 858 864, 866, 887, 890, 891, 892, 893
- A New Zealand Citizen usually resident in Australia; and
- Immediate family members of Australians including Partners (subclasses 100, 309, 801, 820) visa holders, dependent children (subclasses 101, 102, 445) visa holders and legal guardian.
These restrictions were tougher than the ones placed earlier which was limited only to arrivals from countries such as China, Iran, Italy and South Korea where the virus hit hard. Anyone who enters Australia is also restricted to a 14 days quarantine in a hotel.
Therefore, any person who holds an Australian temporary visa cannot enter Australia after 9pm on 20 March 2020 except if there are compelling and compassionate reason. Those who hold Bridging visa B’s, visitors, students, temporary workers, working holiday visa holders are all banned from entering Australia. Australia is now shut to temporary visa holders even if you still hold a valid visa to enter Australia.
Travelling outside of Australia
Travelling outside of Australia is now banned for Australian citizens and permanent residents except for very few exceptions such as part of the response to the Covid-19 outbreak, travelling on urgent and unavoidable personal business, travel is essential for the conduct of critical industries and business or on compassionate/humanitarian grounds.
However, if you are a foreign national on a visa in Australia, you can leave Australia anytime you wish. In fact, Australia is encouraging international visitors to depart if it is possible to do so. Before you can leave Australia of course you will have to check whether your own country has border restrictions in place and whether there are any flights that can take you there.
If you do depart, you can then only re-enter Australia if you fit one of the categories discussed earlier in this blog.
How about financial support?
The Australian government announced the closure of non-essential businesses from midday 23 March 2020. The list of non-essential businesses that closed down include:
- pubs, registered and licensed clubs (excluding bottle shops attached to these venues), hotels (excluding accommodation)
- gyms and indoor sporting venues
- cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos and night clubs
- restaurants and cafes – only restricted to takeaway and/or home delivery
- religious gatherings, places of worship or funerals (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups and where the one person per four square metre rule applies)
In addition to those restrictions, many businesses especially across the retail, hospitality and tourism industries have been impacted by the changes that they had to stand down employees, let some go or ask the employees to take paid/unpaid leave during this disaster. This impacted everyone from Australians to visa holders. The difference however is that Australians can get access to Centrelink benefits as well as the $130billion ‘Job keeper initiative’ by the Australian government which passed parliament on 8 April 2020.
The Jobkeeper program excluded those on temporary visas (except eligible New Zealand citizens on 444 visas). The government however is allowing some temporary visa holders (as well as some Australians) to access their superannuation while they are in Australia if they are experiencing financial hardship and meet the criteria.
Impact on temporary visa holders
With 2.17 million people on temporary visas, the impact of the current situation is real. The Australian government clearly announced that if you cannot support yourself then you should be going home to get that support. They announced that some critical industries such as health and education will however provide visa flexibility to those foreign nationals who can assist.
Their expectations as announced by the Immigration Minister on 4 April 2020 are:
- Visitor visa holders. International tourists should return home as quickly as possible. There are 203,000 international visitors in Australia.
- International students contribute billions of dollars to the Australian economy as well as being an important contributor to our tertiary sector and economy, supporting 240,000 Australian jobs. If you are an international student you are encouraged to rely on your family support, on part time work where available, as well as your own savings. The government expects that if you are a first-year student that you’re able to support yourself which was part of your visa application.
- As an International student, you can work up to 40 hours per fortnight but if are working in aged care and as nurses have had these hours extended to support these critical sectors.
- New Zealanders on a 444 visa. The 672,000 444 visa holders who are in Australia may not have access to the JobSeeker payments, but you may have access to the JobKeeper payments.
- Temporary skilled visa holders- 457 and 482 visa holders: The Australian government consider people on this visa to fill valuable skills shortages here in this country typically on either a two-year visa or a four-year visa. They do not take into account permanent pathways you may be eligible for in the future.
- If you have been stood down or had your hours reduced, your visa will remain valid. It’s an important point because clearly it’s an indication from the business owner that they would like you to be there and be part of the rebuild once we’re post the corona crisis. AND
- You can access to up to $10,000 of their superannuation.
- If you have been laid off, the normal arrangements and conditions on your visa will apply. That is that you will have 60 days (sometimes 90 days under older visas) to seek another business to sponsor you. If you do find another sponsor and you are later eligible for permanent residency, the time you spent in Australia unable to secure a new sponsor because of corona virus may be counted towards your future permanent visa. If you are not sure about your rights, feel free to contact us.
- Working holiday makers: you can remain in Australia with no financial support. Some flexibility will be awarded to those working in critical sectors such as health, aged care, disability care, agriculture and food processing and childcare. In relation to those critical areas, you may be able to work longer than the maximum current six-month duration. Furthermore, when your visa expires after one year, if you have been working or are working in those critical industries we will extend you visa for a further year and subsequent years, if you’re already in your second year of your visa.
- Seasonal Workers Programme and the Pacific Labour Scheme. The government announced an extension of the rights of people from the Pacific Islands who are working on farms to stay for up to an additional 12 months.
- Seek legal advice before you depart Australia because you may not be able to return to Australia.
- If you have been laid off or stood down and you hold a temporary work visa, make sure to contact immigration law experts to advise.
- Visa expiries still apply. If your visa is about to expire, you must lodge a new visa or depart Australia.
- The department is accepting applications for all visas so call us to find out your options to remain in Australia.
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