The latest measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic have been felt instantly by everyone in Australia: citizens, permanent residents, temporary visa holders or unlawful non-citizens alike. The Government is estimating at least one million people could be made unemployed as the coronavirus wreaks havoc on the Australian economy. International students and Subclass 482 visa holders are among the hundreds of thousands of people who have already lost their jobs
In the last few days, I have attended meetings with Acting Minister for Immigration Tudge and with very senior managers within the Department of Home Affairs about measures to protect and preserve the entitlements of temporary visa holders and visa applicants.
The Government and the Department are working through the issues with the MIA attempting to find solutions. The Government does not want to see temporary visa holders becoming vulnerable within the community and open to exploitation. A whole of Government approach is being taken within Home Affairs, Health and Social Security developing strategies to protect visa holders.
The Border Force Commissioner has been given powers to approve travel in compelling and compassionate situations. The Government is likely to put a framework around that which may include critical infrastructure projects, health and essential services, split families and temporary visa holders with a prior established residence in Australia and who were caught offshore by the most recent travel restrictions. Changes to the travel restrictions need to be approved by the National Security Committee of the Cabinet.
Some issues can be quickly fixed by adjusting policy settings. Issues that can be remedied by instrument and those involving changes to the regulations and law, are more time consuming to implement.
The MIA is encouraging the Government to prescribe the coronavirus pandemic as a national disaster in the Migration Regulations and then adopt of range of measures to assist visa holders accordingly.
Some of the measures we have asked the Department to implement include:
- immediately waive visa condition 8503 for all visa holders currently in Australia so they can apply for other visas
- create a COVID-19 specific fee-free visa solution which allows work rights and access to Medicare for the duration of the emergency
- consider extending temporary visas automatically until 30 October 2020 in the first instance
- immediately remove LMT and SAF requirements
We have also raised many visa specific issues and business sponsorship obligations in relation to the part-timing of jobs, leave without pay, stand-downs and retrenchments. The Department is aware that the skilled workers stood down now due to the many forced business closures will need to be re-engaged when those businesses are permitted to reopen.
We have also raised matters pertaining to eligibility for Subclasses 186/187 TRT provisions, moving from the Subclasses 188/489 provisional visas to the permanent Subclasses 888/887 visas, and other visa eligibility and sponsorship obligations.
We have discussed possible solutions for international students who can’t apply for Subclass 485 visas caught offshore by the pandemic and travel restrictions.
The Government doesn’t want to see people become unlawful non-citizens. Temporary visa holders are encouraged to retain lawful status.
The Board will hold weekly teleconference meetings for the next few months as we work to stay on top of the changing landscape and provide our professional community with ongoing quality advocacy and advice. Your State Presidents will report back to you through your relevant State Facebook pages and MIA Notices.
If you have any matter you wish raised with the Department in relation to the COVID-19 measures, please continue sending them to me at email@example.com so they may be included on our COVID-19 Register for referral to the Department.
My closing wish is for every member and your families and friends to remain safe. COVID-19 will be with us for many months to come.
In the meantime #paystobelongMIA
John Hourigan FMIA
If you have any matter you wish raised with the Department in relation to the COVID-19 measures, please continue sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can send them to the MIA.
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