As the population of Australia awakens each morning to new and often confusing updates about the coronavirus, permanent residents are clearly wondering what’s ahead. What hasn’t yet been widely broadcast or considered, however, is the impact that the virus may have on the 2.2 million temporary residents currently living here.
While panic seems to continue in Australian supermarkets, both the Department of Home Affairs and the Immigration Department are operating on a business-as-usual basis. Each department expects Temporary Visa Holders to maintain a lawful status. For those with a visa that is soon to expire, it is important to address the situation so that their status in this country remains lawful.
“Australian visas don’t have the facility to be extended, so you need to apply for another visa,” says Jessica Edis, Principal Lawyer of Perth-based specialist migration law practice, Putt Legal.
“What you need to do is plan ahead and look at what your visa options are. It may be that the only option you have is to apply for a visitor visa to allow you to stay on. If that’s the case that’s fine, you’ll get a bridging visa to cover you in the interim, but whatever you do, don’t let your visa expire.”
Temporary Visa Holders should also bear in mind that even if an application is refused, the potential remains for reviews of onshore applications. This will enable the applicant to remain in Australia with a maintained legal status as their application is reviewed. The important thing is to source the right advice and be prepared.
“Once your visa has expired it makes life very difficult for you,” Edis says. “Even the Migration Act says that you might end up in a detention centre. Just make sure you get advice well before your expiry date.”
Concerns have also arisen for those holding a Travel Pass, otherwise known as a Bridging Visa Class B. This pass is made available to people who are waiting in Australia for a visa to be processed, but for some reason have had a need to travel offshore.
“They have a finite travel period,” Edis notes, “so you may find that you’re stuck offshore after that travel period expires. The Immigration Department has indicated that if you’re in that position then you will be able to apply for a visitor visa to come back. They’re well aware that there may be individuals who are stranded in that situation. So as long as you apply for a visitor visa and explain the circumstances, I feel comfortable that the Department will let you back in.”
With the number of foreign students on Temporary Visas in the Australian tertiary system, there is also a lot of concern within that sector in regard to the possibility of lockdowns. If universities and schools are shut will student visas be affected by a lockdown?
“In this respect I understand that the Immigration Department is working together with the education institutions,” Edis explains. “They haven’t advised of any new policy yet, but I expect there to be a great deal of flexibility.
“I don’t anticipate that there will be any cancellation action taken because you end up in breach of your student visa conditions. I think that the department is likely to publish new policy, to cover students who are affected by the coronavirus situation.”
With the increased demand on supermarket retail at this time, many overseas students who are employed in the industry may be offered additional hours. The worry here is that extra working hours may be in breach of their temporary visa.
“My understanding is that it’s very clearly confined to students who are already working for the large supermarkets, so that would be Coles and Woolworths,” Edis says.
“I understand that some supermarkets will be able to apply to the Immigration Department for their employees to have their hours extended, but at this stage it really is only if you have an existing employment contract with a large supermarket. However, I would suggest that you check directly with your employer rather than making the assumption that you could start to work over the hours that you’re normally allowed to.”
From students to those on working holiday visas, the uncertainty reigns. This is especially so for the many European travellers intending to work while in Australia who are unsure if their applications will go on hold or if the Government will refuse them.
“I don’t anticipate the applications being refused,” says Edis, “but I do anticipate that obviously you won’t be able to travel at a time that suits you. You’ll have to wait for the travel ban to be lifted.
“Working holiday visas have a generous entry date on them, so from the date of grant you actually have 12 months to enter Australia and the period in which you are allowed to be in Australia is 12 months from that first arrival. If you’ve just recently been granted a Working Holiday Visa, you’ll have plenty of time to come to Australia when the coronavirus situation has been resolved.”
While being specifically tested for coronavirus is one thing, the possibility of it becoming part of a regular health examination has become a concern for those simply undertaking one in accordance with their visa conditions.
“I think there’s two things to be aware of if you have a health examination booked in for your visa,” Edis states. “Firstly, if you are feeling unwell, I suggest that you simply reschedule it.
“Secondly, there isn’t any suggestion that they are testing for coronavirus, but even if it turns out that you may have it, it is a temporary condition and the examination is intended for permanent and long-term medical conditions that can significantly increase costs on the public health system.
“So I don’t think the corona virus will affect any health examinations, but as I said, if you’re not feeling well then certainly reschedule the examination until that time when you feel a bit better.”
For Temporary Visa Holders who would like to find out more, or who may have specific questions about their legal status in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Jessica Edis will be part of a Facebook Live Q&A Session with Immigration Lawyer & Registered Migration Agent, Amanda Valenti, on March 18 and 20 as part of an Online Summit presented by Putt Legal.
For Emem Udo, Senior Visa Coordinator for EasyMigrate, an Australian migration and citizen service, the Online Summit comes as welcome news. “I’m glad professionals are making the effort to address the situation of temporary visa holders during this time of uncertainty,” she says. “Australian citizens and permanent residents do not understand the struggle.
“If you were born in Australia as a citizen or permanent resident it is almost impossible to understand how unsettling the visa process is. The visa process is already very destabilising and stressful. Often times temporary visa holders are waiting for months or even years for a decision before they can fully start to make future plans and many visa holders are already restricted by their visa conditions.
“With the added panic and uncertainty surrounding the implications of COVID-19, it’s important for there to be a forum for temporary visa holders to share their concerns and get advice.”
A diversity of topics will be covered including visa cancellation, fears about deportation if this occurs, status while awaiting a return home, travel restrictions, immigration health checks, government response and much more.
“If you have any questions that come to mind now, please submit them before the live stream and that way we can include them and make sure that they’re covered.
“Please understand that information continues to be rolled out and we are communicating directly with the Immigration Department. So, with any of your queries that come in beforehand we will try and submit them directly to the department, so we can answer them for you.”
Access to the COVID-19 Online Expert Webinar & Q+A Session is only $27. Register now and submit your questions at ausmigrate2020.teachable.com.