The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted Australia’s labour market, with many employees being stood down or having their hours reduced. This disruption extends to New Zealanders residing in Australia.
On 24 May 2021, the Department released a legislative instrument to address the disadvantages to the Skilled Independent (subclass 189) (189) visa applicants in the New Zealand stream who would have, but for COVID-19 related issues, been eligible for permanent residence.
What is the Skilled Independent (subclass 189) visa – New Zealand stream?
The 189 New Zealand stream is a streamlined visa for New Zealand citizens who have demonstrated commitment and contribution to Australia. This visa allows eligible New Zealand citizens to live and work in Australia permanently. Very briefly, the requirements are that an applicant must:
- hold a Special Category Subclass 444 visa;
- have been usually resident in Australia for a continuous period of five years immediately prior to application;
- have commenced the above period of usual residence on or before 19 February 2016;
- have a taxable income no less than the minimum amount (currently $53,900) in each of the 4 most recently completed income years, unless exempt; and
- meet mandatory health, character, and security clearances.
What were the changes on 24 May 2021?
On 24 May 2021, the Department released an instrument that:
- creates a new class of exempt applicants from meeting the income threshold where income has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; and
- outlines the minimum taxable income to be met for the 2020-21 income year.
While the minimum taxable income required to be met remains unchanged at $53,900 per annum for the 2020-21 income year, the new class of exempt applicants will provide much needed relief to eligible New Zealand citizens impacted by the pandemic.
Am I an exempt applicant?
Previously, applicants were exempt from meeting the income threshold if they:
- cannot leave Australia because they are the primary carer for a child who cannot be taken out of Australia;
- are being compensated for an injury that prevents them from meeting the income threshold; or
- are on approved carer’s or parental leave;
These exemptions have been extended to include those whose income for the 2019-20 financial year was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. If applicable to you, you will have to show that you:
- would likely have met the income threshold if the COVID-19 pandemic had not adversely impacted the Australian economy; and
- could not meet the income threshold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you consider you belong to this category, you will have to provide relevant evidence.
What evidence do I need to provide?
To demonstrate you are an exempt applicant on the basis that you meet the COVID-19 exemption, you will need to provide the following evidence:
- a signed letter from your current (or former) employee stating your salary prior to 1 February 2020; or
- pay slips and employment contracts that show your salary for the 2019-20 year was likely to have met the income threshold.
If you are employed, you will also be required to provide:
- a statutory declaration by your employer acknowledging that your taxable income has been reduced for reasons relating to the COVID-19 pandemic; or
- evidence that you have been ordered by a doctor to self-isolate in a way that prevented you from working; or
- evidence of caring responsibilities that prevented you from working.
Alternatively, if your employment was terminated, you will be required to provide:
- a statutory declaration by your employer confirming that your employment was terminated due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and/or
- documentation demonstrating you had access to the JobKeeper wage subsidy.
These changes commenced 31 May 2021, with the full legislative instrument being available here.
If you have any questions about the above or require other immigration-related advice, get in touch with our experienced team. Contact us by email at [email protected] or by phone at +61 3 9016 0484.