Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge addressed the media on Friday to present the current visa situation while spotlighting how the coronavirus is currently affecting multicultural communities.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he warned. “I encourage people to only source their information from government sources, and particularly from the health.gov.au.”
He directed people to find the most up-to-date multilingual information pertaining to changes being implemented as a result of the coronavirus from government sources, including the website of the government of Home Affairs.
Transport bans and visa conditions
Leniency and flexible conditions for those on various visas are currently under review following the border closures to non-Australian residents. For now, Mr Tudge urges people to notify the Department of Immigration if they are worried about breaching their terms.
He said that the government was looking urgently at temporary visas. “I would say to those people that if they cannot exit Australia or want to stay in Australia, then please let the Department of Immigration know as quickly as possible and inform them of your circumstance,” he said.
“More broadly of course we’re looking at all the temporary visas. Knowing that we will have fewer people coming into the country on temporary visas, and many of those people are essential for essential services and businesses to keep going.”
READ MORE: Visas, tourism, citizenship to Australia in the coronavirus age
Agricultural businesses will feel the pressure as many rely on those on working holiday visas to help with picking fruit and vegetables.
Mr Tudge ensures that work is being done to ease the strain on farmers in regional areas.
In response to a question posed by Neos Kosmos regarding working holiday visas, Mr Tudge said that the government was working on this right now. “I’ve been in constant discussions with the Agricultural Minister, with the Employment Minister and with the Foreign Minister in relation to this matter to provide solutions to meet the needs particularly of the agricultural sector, but also to meet the needs of those people who may want to stay longer in Australia,” he said.
Some lenient measures have already been put in place to help grocery stores and the aged care sector that require more hands on help during the crisis.
READ MORE: Local supermarkets and suppliers struggle to keep up with panic demand for basics
Mr Tudge was approached by grocery store owners who are feeling the pressure of growing demands and asked for international students to be granted extra hours work.
“We actually gave them that addition flexibility so that international students can do 40 hours per week, rather than 40 hours per fortnight. We’ve also extended that to the aged care sector…there may be other sectors that we may apply that additional flexibility to.”
Mr Tudge also reiterated further measures for people in indoor spaces after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s afternoon update.
“There is a further restriction which the Prime Minister has just announced today, that a restriction of one person per four square metres. That means that if you’ve got a venue of 100 square metres, then you can have 25 people inside that venue.”
Mr Tudge mentioned that support for small businesses struggling with the unprecedented events was on the way through the upcoming stimulus packages, but that it is still possible to support them even with the restrictions.
“Migrants are known to create small businesses at higher rates than Australian born people…the social distancing rules are there and they don’t mean you can’t go to a local restaurant or café. It just means that the café has to abide by the rules and you have to abide by the 1.5 metre rule, and otherwise please go there because that’s supporting that local business.”
He thanked the multicultural communities for their stance during the crisis. “I just want to thank the multicultural communities for their cooperation,” he said, while pointing to the significant travel restrictions announced on Thursday. “I appreciate this has a higher impact on new migrants to this country than people than who may have been here with their families for generations. In part, because you have greater interactions with your loved ones in other countries.”
Visa outsourcing deal is dead
Alan Tudge MP announced the government will no longer go ahead with the controversial $1 billion plan to outsource Australia’s visa processing system, and will instead undergo a wider overhaul of its services extending to citizenship applications, security clearances and customs. The government’s visa outsourcing plan would have recruited private companies to process certain “low-risk visas” to improve efficiency and reduce plans, however opponents of this scheme said the changes would have damaged the integrity of the visa and citizenship system while increasing cost for applicants.
“The Department of Home Affairs has consequently terminated the Request for Tender process for its proposed Global Digital Platform,” he said.
“While current visa systems continue to function, they are out of date, and processing and decision making in many cases is still undertaken manually, supported by old technology and limited risk assessment capabilities,” he said.
“With this approach, systems and capabilities will be well-placed to meet future demands, enabling the government to respond to emerging global threats and improving service delivery across government.”
In August of last year, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon David Coleman MP, asked the Joint Standing Committee on Migration to inquire into and report on migration in regional Australia.
The inquiry looked into effective ways to encourage migrants to settle and contribute to regional areas. This included involving local volunteers, employers and community organisations and assessing their role in facilitating regional settlement, along with addressing infrastructure and other issues.
The inquiry has been suspended as of March 25 “in light of COVID-19 and the economic impacts of the public health situation potentially changing the needs of regional communities.”
On the visa front, the office of Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge says “The Government is still working through a range of issues which will be announced soon.”
The Department of Home Affairs has uploaded a list of the entities that have been granted relaxed student visa working hours. You can find the list here.
The department has also included information about current visa processes in various languages. You can find the resource in Greek here.