The Morrison government announced yesterday new arrangements for temporary visa holders and visitors in Australia.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the new measures recognise the importance of the 2.17 million temporary visa holders to the Australian economy and society, however, with Australian citizens being the priority, many will have to reevaluate their options.
“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,” Mr Tudge explained.
“They 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.”
TEMPORARY VISA HOLDERS with work rights ALLOWED TO DRAW FROM SUPER
Acknowledging that temporary visa holders are extremely valuable to the Australian economy and way of life, Mr Tudge stressed the reality that many Australians will find themselves out of work due to the dual health and economic crisis the nation is currently facing, “and these Australians and permanent residents must be the Government’s number one focus,” he said.
Temporary visa holders with work rights – and this includes international students – will be allowed to draw up to $10,000 of their Australian superannuation funds this financial year to deal with the financial impact of Covid-19.
This measure has already been made available to Australian citizens and permanent residents, as well as New Zealand citizens with Australian-held super.
Meanwhile, people on temporary skilled visas (139,000 temporary skilled visa holders in Australia to this date) who have been stood down while on a 2 year or 4 year visa, could have their visas extended under normal arrangements, while businesses could also reduce their hours without breaching conditions. However, those who have completely lost their jobs and are unable to find a new sponsor should leave the country.
“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, should a four-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,” Mr Tudge said.
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,” he added.
Another 185,000 temporary visa holders in Australia, which includes temporary graduate visa holders will also be able to access their Australian superannuation if needed for support.
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS MUST DEMONSTRATE ABILITY TO FINANCIALLY SUPPORT THEMSELVES
As for the 565,000 international students reportedly in Australia currently, according to the Acting Immigration Minister, they are “encouraged to rely on family support, part-time work where available and their own savings to sustain themselves”.
“[They are] 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 have to demonstrate they can support themselves during their first year in Australia as part of their visa application whereas those who have been here for longer than that, will also be given early access to their super accounts.
More specifically, the Government committed to be flexible in cases where Coronavirus has prevented international students from meeting their visa conditions (such as not being able to attend classes).
International students are able to work up to 40 hours per fortnight while those 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.
Stressing that there has always been an expectation from the government that a student visa applicant would be able to support themselves, Mr Tudge also urged anyone who is not financially secure to leave echoing the Prime Minister’s statement made on Friday.
“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. Thousands are already doing this and others should follow their lead,” Tudge concluded.
BACKPACKERS ALLOWED TO EXTEND STAY TO ENSURE VIABILITY OF AGRICULTURE SECTOR
The Federal Government estimates there are about 118,000 people in Australia on a Working Holiday visa (or backpacker visa) which grants them conditional work rights.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said extending the visas of working holiday-makers and seasonal workers would ensure farmers had enough labour to plant and pick their crops and manage food processing while also supporting the critical sectors of heath, aged and disability care as well as childcare.
“What we are saying to those visa holders is that if you’re prepared to stay in this country and help us get through this coronavirus then we’ll extend your visa,” Mr Littleproud told Landline on Friday.
“Only if they are working in agriculture or a critical industry, that being health and aged care as well as agriculture.”
The Government on Saturday announced Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme participants will be able to extend their stay for up to one year.
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.
“Working holiday makers that do not have the confidence to sustain themselves over the next six months should make arrangements to leave the country.”
Moreover, to ensure regional communities are protected against coronavirus, backpackers will also have to self-isolate for 14 days before they start working.
Those who come to the end of their work placement and cannot return home will be given assistance to move to a new placement if they agree to meet the agricultural labour demand. Again, they will have to self-isolate for 14 days prior to moving to a different region. Those found in breach of the rules will be sent home.
“The primary producer, state and local governments [should] work together to provide accommodation — whether that be on a farm or in an accommodation that is suitable for them to self-isolate in the community for 14 days,” Mr Littleproud explained during a press conference on Saturday.
“The accommodation of these workers as they move around the country is imperative. It is imperative we work with state and local governments in ensuring they have adequate and healthy living environments in which coronavirus will not spread.”
“We’re working with state officials to ensure there is policing of this and that any backpacker or seasonal Pacific Island worker that flouts it will lose their visa rights immediately and go home,” he said.
NEW ZEALANDERS IN AUSTRALIA AND AUSTRALIANS IN NEW ZEALAND
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. Those who had arrived before 26 February 2001 will have access to welfare payments and the JobKeeper payment whereas 444 visa holders who arrived after 2001 have access to the JobKeeper payment but do not have access to JobSeeker or other welfare payments.
Finally, Mr Tudge said that New Zealanders should consider returning home if they are unable to support themselves either through these provisions or via work and family support.
More to come.