Australia: post-pandemic and beyond

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Anne O’Donoghue
Immigration Solutions Lawyers, Sydney, New South Wales

Rongjun (May) Liao
Immigration Solutions Lawyers, Sydney, New South Wales

Palwasha Nawabi
Immigration Solutions Lawyers, Sydney, New South Wales

The Covid-19 pandemic transformed the world. How we live and how we work was greatly altered. In comparison to other countries, Australia managed to provide a great response to the pandemic with limited infections and fatalities. One of the most significant changes due to the pandemic was and continues to be the unprecedented closure of Australian borders, an evident reason for Australia’s success. The Australian border closed to foreign nationals on 20 March 2020, and to Australian citizens and permanent residents on 25 March 2020. To be permitted to enter or leave Australia, travellers must apply for a travel exemption even if they hold a valid Australian visa. Partners of Australian citizens who are overseas can apply for a travel exemption with relationship evidence to come to Australia. Additionally, the Department of Home Affairs has rearranged resources to process more partner visas.

To enable migrants to remain in Australia, the Australian government introduced a new visa stream, the Australian Government endorsed events (Covid-19 Pandemic event) Subclass 408. This visa is for foreign nationals who have no other visa options available and are unable to leave Australia due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, as well as foreign nationals who work in the following critical sectors:

  • agriculture;
  • food processing;
  • health care;
  • aged care;
  • disability care; and
  • childcare.

The Australian government has announced as part of the economic recovery that there is a large focus on the Global Talent Visa and the Business Innovation and Investment Program. Both migration programs seek to attract ‘the best and brightest migrants from around the world’. Australia’s foundations and resilient economy have made Australia a ‘preferential location for productive foreign direct investment’.

Furthermore, as a result of the pandemic, it is anticipated that Australia’s net migration intake will drop to ‘negative levels for the first time since World War II’. The Prime Minister of Australia has announced the continued focus on temporary visa holders for Australia’s economic recovery, where Australians are unable to meet workforce shortages, as he expects that an overhaul of Australia’s migration program will add value through the creation of jobs.

Although Australia has secured and begun administering Covid-19 vaccines, it is expected for Australia’s borders to remain shut; hence the travel exemption system will continue. This news comes with the Australian Government’s announcement of extending the travel ban from 17 March – 17 June 2021, due to fears that the world ‘continues to pose an unacceptable public health risk’. The emergency directive ‘can be amended or repealed if no longer needed’.

The new Subclass 408 that was introduced may continue to stay open to applications in order to enable migrants with critical skills in critical sectors to remain in Australia for the purpose of Australia’s post-pandemic economic recovery, for a limited time period and in accordance with the law attaching to the Subclass 408. Statistics released by the Department of Home Affairs reveal that between 1 October 2020 and 31 December 2020, 8,387 applications for this subclass were received and 5,707 applications were granted.

The future of travel appears to be dependent on Covid-19 vaccinations. After the travel ban was extended, Qantas announced that until Australia’s vaccination program concludes, it will push back international flights.

Furthermore, it is possible that Covid-19 vaccination becomes a mandatory requirement for entering and leaving Australia. To obtain an Australia visa, currently one must answer health questions, and sometimes health examinations are also required depending on countries visited and resided in. Hence, it is likely that questions about Covid-19 will be incorporated into existing health questions and health examinations, especially if the applicant has been to a high-risk Covid-19 country or a country that has not yet been able to vaccinate most of their population.

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