Temporary visa requirements relaxed under coronavirus response

Employment minister Michaelia Cash. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Employment minister Michaelia Cash. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

International visitors told to "go home" if they can't support themselves will be offered flexibility on their visa requirements in a bid to support Australia's critical industries.

Following Scott Morrison's assertion that the alternative for struggling temporary visa holders snubbed from JobKeeper and JobSeeker eligibility was "to return to their home countries", those in health, aged care, agriculture and childcare will be offered the chance to work more and stay longer.

Changes to visa requirements aimed to "protect the health and livelihoods of Australians, support critical industries, and assist with the rapid recovery post the virus" were announced in a statement from acting immigration minister Alan Tudge's office on Saturday.

The maximum work allowance for international students with jobs in aged care and nursing has been extended beyond 40 hours a fortnight to support these sectors during the pandemic, the statement said.

Students whose work allowance had increased beyond 40 hours to stack supermarket shelves will lose that right at the end of the month, according to the statement, with more Australians recruited to those roles.

Of the 118,000 people visiting Australia on holiday-maker visas, those working in health, aged care, agriculture, and childcare will also be offered visa flexibility under the new arrangements.

Those working in these sectors will be allowed to stay on with the same employer for more than six months. They will also be eligible to keep working in these sectors if their visa was due to expire in the next six months.

In a bid to support Australia's agriculture industries, overseas workers visiting Australia on Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme will be given the option to extend their stay for another year.

Minister for employment Michaelia Cash said this change would give farmers the confidence to perform their work, ensuring the supply of fresh food to Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"Our rural and regional communities will continue to benefit, with these workers addressing acute labour requirements across the sector and ensuring fresh produce continues to be supplied to shops and supermarkets across the country," Ms Cash said.

There are more than 139,000 temporary skilled visa holders on either two-year or four-year visas in Australia, working to fill skills shortages.

Those visa holders who have been stood down, but not laid off, will maintain their visa validity under the new provisions. Businesses will have the opportunity to reduce the hours of the visa holder without the person being in breach of their visa condition.

"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," the statement from Ms Cash said.

New Zealanders who arrived in Australia before February 29 on 444 visas, which provide both countries with reciprocal working rights, will have access to welfare payments and the JobKeeper payment.

Those 444 visa holders who arrived after 2001 will have access to the JobKeeper payment. They do not have access to JobSeeker or other welfare payments.

The more than 560,000 international students currently in Australia will also be offered some flexibility in cases where coronavirus has prevented them meeting their visa conditions, such as not being able to attend classes.

Temporary graduate visa holders, temporary skilled visa holders and students who have been here for more than 12 months will be able to access their Australian superannuation if needed.

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This story Visa rules relaxed to support critical industries during crisis first appeared on The Canberra Times.