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In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Australia has strict immigration restrictions in place.

This immigration alert pertains to updates in Australia. Given the fluid nature of the situation, we strongly recommend you contact your Hannan Tew adviser prior to making any travel plans.
At a glance

COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

In response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak, government’s around the world have clamped down on immigration programs in order to stem the transmission of the virus. This page pertains to updates in Australia. Given the fluid nature of this unprecedented situation, we strongly recommend you contact your Hannan Tew adviser prior to making any travel plans.

Travel restrictions
  • From 9 pm AEDT on 20 March 2020, only Australian citizens, permanent residents and New Zealand citizens ordinarily resident in Australia are permitted to travel to Australia
  • All other travellers are prohibited from entering Australia for the time being unless they have an exemption (either automatic or application based)
  • All travellers arriving in Australia, including Australian citizens, must quarantine for 14 days at a designated facility (such as a hotel in their port of arrival). See Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for travellers. You may be required to pay for the costs of your quarantine. To find out more about quarantine requirements, contact the relevant State or Territory government health department
  • From 1 November 2021, Australian citizens and permanent residents aged 12 and over who are considered fully vaccinated are able to leave Australia without an outward travel exemption. They will also be able to enter quarantine free travel into the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Victoria
  • Temporary visa holders may depart at any time (provided that they have permission to enter their destination and / or transit country) but they will need to seek permission to re-enter Australia
Visa holders in Australia
  • Temporary visa holders must ensure that they have a visa to remain in Australia
  • Temporary visa holders may depart Australia at any time (provided that they have permission to enter their destination and / or transit country) but they will need to seek permission to re-enter Australia, even if their visa remains valid
  • If a temporary visa has a “no further stay” condition the visa holder must apply to have it removed
Other relevant bodies
  • BUPA health processing is experiencing delays
  • Administrative Appeals Tribunal matters are usually undertaken remotely
  • VFS Global offices are impacted by delays (if not closed) on a country by country basis (see here)
  • Embassies and high commissions are mostly closed or delayed (on a country specific basis)
  • Many language tests now offer at home examinations
Travel restrictions

Inbound

Only specific categories of persons (including Australian citizens, permanent residents and New Zealand Citizens who are usually resident in Australia are permitted to travel to Australia) can enter Australia without applying for an exemption.

Other travellers will usually need to make an application for an exemption and be approved before boarding their flight to Australia.

All travellers should also complete an Australian Travel Declaration at least 72 hours prior to your departure to Australia. For further information, please refer to the Department website.

Note that departure from the country you are in is subject to the rules and decisions of authorities in that country.​

Automatic exemptions
  • You are automatically exempt from the travel restrictions and can enter Australia (without obtaining an individual exemption) if you are:
    • an Australian citizen
    • a permanent resident of Australia
    • an immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident (noting that if you are a temporary visa holder you must still apply for an exemption)
    • a New Zealand citizen usually resident in Australia and their immediate family members
    • a person who has been in New Zealand for 14 days more immediately prior to Australia by air
    • a diplomat accredited to Australia (holding a subclass 995 visa)
    • a traveller transiting Australia for 72 hours or less
    • airline crew; maritime crew including marine pilots
    • recruits under the Government approved Seasonal Worker Program or Pacific Labour Scheme
    • holders of a Business Innovation and Investment (subclass 188) visa
    • a person who holds a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa in the ‘Post COVID-19 Economic Recovery Event’ stream and who i supported by the Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce
  • You need to carry evidence that you meet one of the above categories when travelling so please ensure you seek immigration advice before making travel plans.
Compulsory isolation
  • All travellers arriving in Australia, including Australian citizens, must quarantine for 14 days at a designated facility (such as a hotel in their port of arrival). See Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for travellers. You may be required to pay for the costs of your quarantine. To find out more about quarantine requirements, contact the relevant State or Territory government health department.
  • Each Australian State and Territory Government will determine the appropriate ‘designated facilities’ for their State/Territory and the specific arrangements. The relevant ‘designated facility’ will likely be the city of entry where the traveller has cleared immigration, but facilities in other areas may be used if required. Arriving travellers will be transported directly to designated facilities after appropriate immigration, customs and enhanced health checks.
Australia Travel Declaration
  • Before you travel to Australia, you should complete the Australian Travel Declaration at least 72 hours before you depart Australia (see here)
Individual exemptions (by application)
  • The Commissioner of the Australian Border Force (ABF) may consider an individual exemption in relation to the travel restrictions for the following:​
    • people escorting Australian citizen or permanent resident minors to travel to Australia to ensure safety and welfare of the child or children during travel
    • a non-citizen travelling at the invitation of the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response
    • providing critical or specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuations and delivering critical medical supplies
    • a non-citizen with critical skills or working in a critical sector in Australia
    • a non-citizen sponsored by your employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL)
    • a non-citizen whose entry would otherwise be in the national interest, supported by the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority
    • military personnel, including those who form part of the Status of Forces Agreement, Commonwealth Armed Forces, Asia Pacific Forces and Status of Armed Forces Agreement
    • a person who resides on a vessel that seeks safe port at the closest appointed port for reprovisioning or safety reasons for a limited duration, supported by the relevant State or Territory government where safe haven is sought 
    • a student who has been selected to take part in an International Student Arrivals plan that has been approved by the relevant state or territory government, and endorsed by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment as satisfyingly the Protocols and Preconditions for International Student Arrivals
    • a student in the final three years of study of a medical university degree, where they have evidence of a confirmed placement in an Australian hospital or medical practice. The placement must commence within the next two months, and provide medical services to the Australian public
    • a higher degree research student enrolled in an Australian education institution (including Masters by research and PhD students) with evidence of a current research grant from a Commonwealth agency or support from a relevant government agency outlining why the research is considered essential and/ or in Australia’s national interest and how their role is critical to the research
    • a student completing year 11 and 12, with support from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE), and support from the relevant Australian State or Territory government health and education authorities. Further information regarding this process can be found at the Department of Education Skills and Employment website
    • a student in the final two years of study of a dental, nursing or allied health professional university degree, where you have evidence of a confirmed placement in an Australian hospital or medical practice which begins in the next two months
    • travelling for compassionate and compelling reasons
    • a Prospective Marriage (subclass 300) visa holder in the following circumstances (a) where the subclass 300 visa has been granted and (b) the subclass 3000 visa application was lodged at least 12 months before submitting a travel exemption request
  • If you think you meet one of the above criteria, you must first obtain permission through here
What are the critical skills?
  • The Commissioner of the Australian Border Force may grant an individual exemption if you are a non-citizen:​
    • travelling at the invitation of the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response
    • providing critical or specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuations and delivering critical medical supplies
    • with critical skills required to maintain the supply of essential goods and services (such as in medical technology, critical infrastructure, telecommunications, engineering and mining, supply chain logistics, aged care, agriculture, primary industry, food production, and the maritime industry)
    • delivering services in sectors critical to Australia’s economic recovery (such as financial technology, large scale manufacturing, film, media and television production and emerging technology), where no Australian worker is available
    • providing critical skills in religious or theology fields
    • sponsored by your employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL)
    • whose entry would otherwise be in Australia’s national interest, supported by the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority.
  • If you think you meet one of the above criteria, you must first obtain permission through here
Travel restrictions

Outbound

From 1 November 2021, Australian citizens and permanent residents aged 12 and over who are fully vaccinated are able to leave Australia without an outward travel exemption. They will also be able to enter quarantine free into the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Victoria.

Travel restriction
  • From 1 November 2021, Australian citizens and permanent residents aged 12 and over who are fully vaccinated are able to leave Australia without an outward travel exemption. They will also be able to enter quarantine free into the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Victoria
What is fully vaccinated?
  • Travellers are considered ‘fully vaccinated’ if they completed a course of Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved or recognised vaccine. This includes mixed doses as long as all vaccines are approved or recognised by the TGA. Current vaccines and dosages accepted for travel are:
    • Two doses at least 14 days apart of:
      • AstraZeneca Vaxzevria
      • AstraZeneca Covidshield
      • Pfizer / Biontech Comirnaty
      • Moderna Spikevax
      • Sinovac Coronavac
    • Or one dose of:
      • Johnson & Johnson / Janssen-Cilag COVID Vaccine
  • Importantly, at least 7 days must have passed since the final dose of vaccine in a course of immunisation for travellers to be considered “fully vaccinated”.
  • If you do not meet Australia’s definition of fully vaccinated, current border restrictions apply and you must continue to follow current border processes when leaving or coming to Australia. This includes requesting a travel exemption and undertaking mandatory quarantine.
Other border restrictions
  • Be aware that countries around the world are implementing their own border restrictions in response to COVID-19 and the international air network is operating under reduced capacity. This may impact your ability and eligibility to enter other countries. 
Background

Visa holders in Australia

Existing visa holders in Australia can apply for further visas in Australia, and apply for permanent residency (where satisfying relevant criteria for existing visas). Such applicants would be entitled to bridging visas permitting them to remain in Australia lawfully during processing. Certain visa holders may be eligible for the unique Subclass 408 visa (COVID-19 Pandemic event stream).

No further stay condition (includes 8503, 8534 and 8535)
  • These conditions mean that you won’t be able to apply for most visas until you leave Australia. 
  • If you have less than two months remaining on your current visa, you may be able to request to waive this condition.
Non-resident cannot stay for more than 12 months in any 18 months period (Condition 8558)
  • In these circumstances, you will need to apply for a further visa that will suit your needs. Speak to your Hannan Tew adviser to consider your options. 
Subclass 408 visa (COVID-19 Pandemic event stream)
  • The 408 visa includes a particular stream known as the “Australian Government endorsed event”. On 6 April 2020 the government issued a new legislative instrument in which the COVID-19 Pandemic event will be considered an Australian Government endorsed event. The measure is temporary in nature, will be subject to ongoing review and will be wound back appropriately in line with the end of the pandemic.
  • What this means is that certain temporary visa holders in Australia may be eligilbe for a 408 visa for which there is no government application charge. Read more here.
Applying for other visas
  • If you are able to apply for other visas (for example transition to permanent residence or apply for a further temporary visa) we strongly urge you to speak to your Hannan Tew adviser to consider viable options forward.
Covid-19

Frequently Asked Questions

I am an employer whose business has been forced to close. What do I do about my staff who are on TSS visas?

As a sponsor of TSS visa holders, there are sponsorship obligations in place that must be adhered to.

This includes the obligation in relation to paying your staff according to the amount in the approved nomination and notifying the DHA of relevant changes to your business and/or employment practices.

If you make the decision to terminate a TSS visa-holder’s employment, you are obliged to notify the DHA of this. The employee will then be obliged to find another employer sponsor, apply for a different visa, or depart Australia.

You must ensure your termination complies with relevant work place laws.

There may be options to place your staff on part time employment or Leave With Out Pay (LWOP) and still comply with your sponsorship obligations (see below).

I am an employer whose business may have no choice but to close, but I don’t want to terminate the employment of my staff on TSS visas just yet. Can I give them leave without pay?

There are regulatory provisions to give a TSS visa-holder leave without pay (LWOP).

However, under Department policy, extended LWOP is not considered to be compatible with the purpose of the program.

Additionally, placing staff on LWOP will generally not meet the obligation an employer has to ensure equivalent earnings and an ongoing market salary rate under other sponsorship obligations. This means that the LWOP cannot be indefinite or for an extended period of time. Generally, LWOP would only be acceptable where there are significant personal reasons (such as a workplace injury) and should not be for more than 3 months, unless you are required to provide the leave under Australian workplace laws. In all cases, the Department expects that:

  1. the arrangement is mutually agreed upon by you and your employee
  2. the process is documented i.e. there is a formal application for LWOP that has been formally approved by the employer

We have had no clarification from the DHA in relation to whether they are going to take a flexible approach to applying the specific LWOP policy, though they have indicated a flexible approach to TSS visa holders generally (see here).

We strongly advise that any LWOP is for an interim period only to be taken after discussion with an immigration professional, during which time you can make decisions about how you want to operate your business moving forward.

I am an employer whose business may have no choice but to close, but I don’t want to terminate the employment of my staff on TSS visas just yet. Can I reduce their hours?

The Department advised on 4 April 2020 that businesses will be able to reduce the hours of the visa holder without the person being in breach of their visa condition (bearing in mind that the hourly rate should not be reduced).

Please contact us to discuss your options if you are in this position.

I employ international students. Can I give them extra work?

The DHA has advised that visa-holders must adhere to the conditions on their visas, regardless of the current pandemic. This includes the work limitation imposed on their visas.

As such, you cannot employ Students for more than 40 hours a fortnight whilst their course is in session unless you come within one of the specific industries that the DHA has announced is exempt from this:

  1. supermarkets
  2. aged care providers
  3. nurses

I employ working holiday visa holders. Are they still only allowed to work for me for only 6 months?

Again, the DHA has been clear that visa-holders must adhere to the conditions on their visas, regardless of the current pandemic. This includes the 6-month work limitation imposed on working holiday visas. As such, you cannot employ them for more than 6 months. There are penalties that apply to employers who do not employ visa-holders appropriately

I employ working holiday visa holders. Can they apply for permission to work for me for more than 6 months?

There are only limited circumstances in which a working holiday visa holder can work for more than 6 months (for example au pairs, lodging another visa application which would permit full time employment or for exceptional reasons). Though have not yet had any guidance from the DHA , it could be arguable that the pandemic is an exceptional reason. Speak to us if you wish to consider a request for the 6 month limitation to be extended.

I employ someone whose visa expires in 2 weeks. Are they allowed to stay in Australia because of the travel restrictions caused by COVID-19?

It is very important to understand that all visa-holders must maintain their lawful status in Australia, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic. This requirement has not changed.

Visa-holders who have an imminent visa expiry are expected to apply for a new visa before their current visa expires. This can include Visitor visas. Speak to us immediately if this is a concern as becoming unlawful can have significant impacts on future immigration status in Australia.

One of my staff members holds a TSS visa and couldn’t get back to Australia before the travel restrictions came into effect. The only reason they couldn’t get back was because they couldn’t get a commercial flight. What can they do to get back?

Unfortunately, now that these restrictions are in place, there are only limited circumstances in which a temporary visa holder may return to Australia (see exceptions above). If you wish to apply for an exemption to the travel restrictions, please contact your Hannan Tew adviser as soon as possible.

One of my staff members holds a Bridging Visa B and couldn’t get back to Australia before the travel restrictions came into effect. What can they do to get back?

There is no provision to apply for or be granted or “extend” a Bridging Visa B if the holder is outside Australia. If someone is offshore and their Bridging Visa B ceases, they will be expected to apply for and be granted another visa (e.g. a short stay visitor visa) to return to Australia once the ban has been lifted. Once back onshore, they may be able to apply for a Bridging Visa A. Contact us to discuss any options for people in this position.

Am I still able to sponsor TSS visas?

Yes – the TSS visa program is still available to sponsors. Bear in mind that there are some practical matters to consider in making this decision. For example, if the prospective employee is offshore, they will not be able to travel to Australia until such time as the travel restrictions have been lifted. There may also be practical delays in arranging health and character clearances and English language tests as we understand some agencies are closed.

Disclaimer

The information contained here is offered for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or give rise to an attorney-client relationship between you and our firm. The information: (i) must be regarded as a practical guide for general information and not a process guide for determining the specific immigration requirements of the countries covered, (ii) should not be a substitute for a more indepth analysis of applicable facts and circumstances conducted by competent professionals, and (iii) does not represent an opinion from Hannan Tew or any of its agents with regard to the laws of any of the jurisdictions concerned. The information does not guarantee the outcome or approval of any particular immigration application.

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