COVID-19 and Working Visas: What You Need to Know
While travel restrictions may feel annoying for the average Australian, they can hold untold challenges for employees who are here on skilled work or working holiday visas.
For 482 Visas (Temporary Skills Shortage) and 457 Visas
There have been several changes made to support employees who hold 482 and 457 visas, including a relaxation of some of the visa conditions.
Employees who have had to reduce hours (at the same pay rate), or have been ‘stood down’ (but are essentially still employed by their sponsor), will not be in breach of their visa if they are not working. They are also able to take Leave Without Pay as long as it has been agreed to by both the employee and their sponsoring employer.
For visa holders who are overseas and cannot return, they can work while they are abroad if they can work remotely. However, this time will not count towards a permanent visa application such as a Subclass 186 Visa in the Temporary Residence Transitional stream.
Visa holders cannot work for another employer without a new sponsorship application for the new employer. In addition, they cannot change their duties for more than 60 days without breaching their current visa conditions.
For visa holders whose employment is terminated, they must leave the country within 60 days or find a new sponsor before their current visa expires. They are also permitted to apply for a different type of visa.
Temporary work visa holders who are currently employed in critical sectors may be eligible for a COVID-19 pandemic Temporary Activity Visa (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Agreement Event (AGEE) stream visa. Critical sectors include agriculture, food processing, healthcare and medical, aged care, disability care and childcare.
For Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa holders
The WHM visa can’t be extended. It may, however, be possible to apply for a second or third WHM 417 visa. To apply, the visa holder must have already completed a minimum period of ‘specified work’ while holding their previous WHM visa. Critical COVID-19 work in the healthcare and medical sectors undertaken anywhere in Australia after 31 January 2020 can be used as ‘specified work’ to apply for a second or third WHM visa.
COVID-19 Pandemic event visa
Visa holders who are stuck in Australia due to COVID-19, cannot return home and who do not qualify for any other visa (such as a Visitor Visa or Bridging Visa), can apply for a special COVID-19 408 visa as a last resort.
Key points to remember
- Be aware of your obligations as a sponsor
- Be aware of the visa status of each overseas employee, including their visa expiry dates
- Make sure you have a plan in place for when an employee’s visa expires
The ongoing challenges for international travel and Australian visas are rampant with uncertainties. Keeping on top of your employer obligations may be difficult. The HR Dept is here to help you navigate the ups and downs of employing overseas workers.
Using Face Masks Across Australia: The Rules and Regulations
Ongoing community outbreaks of COVID-19 means regulations are constantly changing, including the use of face masks. Here’s a breakdown of the face mask regulations across Australia as at 3rd February 2021 but please check the Australia Department of Health website for the latest information.
State and Territory guidelines
Australian Capital Territory
Face masks are not required but be prepared for a time when they may be. Face masks are recommended for people who have COVID-like symptoms, are self-isolating or in quarantine who are leaving their home for an essential reason such as medical care.
New South Wales
Face masks are mandatory across Greater Sydney (including Wollongong, Blue Mountains and Central Coast) in the following indoor settings:
- Retail outlets, supermarkets, and shopping centres
- Waiting areas for public/shared transport and on public/shared transport
- Indoor entertainment (including cinemas and theatres)
- Places of worship
- Hair and beauty premises
- When visiting an aged care facility
As of 12 January 2021, face masks are mandatory at all NSW airports and on flights, including those taking off or landing in NSW.
Face masks are recommended if:
- You have symptoms and are getting tested
- Cannot maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres
For impacted areas within Greater Brisbane, you must carry a mask with you at all times when you leave home, unless you have a lawful reason not to. Face masks must be worn in indoor spaces, except your home. Face masks are not required outdoors unless a physical distance of 1.5 metres cannot be maintained, for example, in walkways.
For those people outside the impacted areas, face masks must be worn in Queensland airports, on domestic flights, on international flights from COVID-19 hotspots or when transporting persons required to quarantine such as bus, coach or taxi drivers.
From 23 December 2020 face masks are no longer mandatory. However, other restrictions are still in place.
Face masks are not required in Tasmania unless:
- You are caring for a person who has or is suspected of having COVID-19
- You have symptoms or are COVID-positive and need to leave your place of isolation for testing or medical support
- You are visiting a COVID-hotspot and cannot maintain physical distancing
You must carry a mask with you at all times when leaving home unless you have a lawful reason not to. However, face masks are still mandatory:
- On public transport, rideshare or taxis
- Inside shopping centres
- Inside indoor markets
- In large retail stores (over 2000 sqm)
Face masks are mandatory in Perth, Peel and South West Regions when out in public.
For further information, visit the Australian Department of Health Website.
Give our friendly HR experts a call if you have any questions or concerns around your HR practices.
Overseas Farmworkers: What Visas Can Be Used During COVID-19?
With over 80% of farmworkers coming from overseas and no ‘ag-specific visa’ in sight, how do overseas worker visas operate for farmers? Have any changes been made to help with COVID-19 worker shortages?
Approval as a Business Sponsor is the first step
Before you can sponsor an overseas worker on any of these visas, you need to register to be an Approved Business Sponsor. Sponsorship lasts for five years. If you were a business sponsor prior to the 457 Visa being abolished, you can use your approval status to nominate a worker on a 482/TSS or Working Holiday/Work and Holiday visa. However, there are provisos:
- Farmworkers must meet eligibility requirements
- Employers must have time remaining on their sponsorship approval
Who can be nominated for a 482/TSS visa?
Farmworkers listed on the Short Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) can be sponsored on a 482/TSS visa as long as:
- You, as the sponsor, can prove you have been unable to find an Australian worker after advertising the position for a minimum of 28 consecutive days at least twice in the last four months
- The applicant has worked in a relevant full-time position for at least five years or holds a Bachelor degree plus two years full-time and paid relevant work
- The applicant has a high English test score (of at least 4.5 or 5.0 on the IELTS) or is exempt
Hiring Legal Workers
It is your responsibility to ensure you hire workers that have permission to work in Australia; this includes harvest workers. To be compliant, you can register with the Department of Home Affairs’ free Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) service to:
- verify if workers have the right to work in Australia
- ensure their visa type is eligible
- make regular checks for any changes to your employee’s visa
Meeting your employer obligations
Make sure you are aware of what your employer obligations entail for each visa class you are sponsoring. For example, working holiday visa holders are eligible for superannuation and must be taxed at a special rate (called the ‘backpacker tax’).
Changes to farm work visas during COVID-19
In a bid to support farmers during the pandemic, the Federal Government has made some provisional changes to temporary visa conditions, including:
- Permitting student visa holders to work more than 40 hours per fortnight during semesters if they are working in agriculture
- Allowing workers in the agriculture industry to apply for the COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa
- Permitting temporary visa holders up to 90 days before their existing visa runs out without the need to demonstrate their attempts to leave Australia
Help when you need it
Working in agriculture brings a myriad of challenges, never mind the intricacies of hiring and managing overseas workers. Let the experts do this for you. The HR Dept is here to support you with all your HR needs – on either an ad hoc basis or on a more regular basis. So give us a call to help you navigate the challenges of employing and managing your workforce.
How to Manage Lovestruck Employees
Before you start installing cubicles and applying blanket censorship, it’s worth noting that a complete ban on workplace relationships would be arduous. Strict rules like this can encourage employees to be dishonest and sneak around. And assumptions can lead you into dangerous territory, such as risk of discrimination, particularly where same sex individuals are involved.
You may however like to consider a ban on relationships between managers and subordinates, where the balance of power is one sided and can directly impact work. These relationships carry a risk of favouritism and can be a liability for your business.
But rather than banning all personal relationships in your business, a few well-constructed rules should be enough to keep the peace and see employees working well together. For example, your policy on personal relationships may want to deter public displays of affection and encourage courteous behaviour towards others (in the event of a breakup).
Having a policy is simply the first step towards protecting employees and your business. It is essential that training is provided to ensure that rules are followed, and company values are respected.
Support from your HR Dept
If romance is blossoming in your business and you have some questions on how to approach the topic of relationships with employees, call us. We’ll make sure your actions are legally compliant and suggest a policy that fits the unique needs of your business.
Top Tips to Keep Your Virtual Business Inclusive
Progress in workplace inclusivity is one thing at risk during the new normal. Many of the cues of the physical environment are just not available right now.
However, in our virtual world of Zoom, Teams and other digital platforms we get the chance to come up with new ways of fostering inclusivity by pressing the reset button on the etiquette of meetings.
For example, introduce a facilitator to ensure all voices are heard – not just the extroverts or people with power; invite people to tag their preferred name on their profile; take the opportunity to better read non-verbal signals in gallery view; and get people who may not normally feature in a meeting to participate, like a customer representative.
Some platforms even offer automatic closed captioning which can help those with hearing impairments or who speak in a non-native language. There is much more available too, so think creatively and don’t let inclusivity slide. It will help your company benefit from better engagement, better decision making and improved mental health amongst your team.