COVID-19 and working visas: What you need to know

Tuesday January 12, 2021

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.

Changes to work visas

For employers who sponsor employees on a work visa, you need to be aware of your obligations as a sponsor and keep abreast of any changes made due to COVID-19. In particular, you may need to note the following:

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.

If an employee on a sponsored visa has their employment terminated, their employer is obligated to pay reasonable travel expenses for their return home.

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.

Visa condition 8547, the limitation to only work for one employer for six months, is still in place unless the Department of Home Affairs grants permission. However, Working Holiday Makers have permission to work with the same employer for longer than six months if they work in critical sectors, including agriculture, food processing, healthcare and medical, aged care, disability care and childcare.

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.

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