Covid-19 FAQ

The updates on this page are a summary of some of the questions we have received from individuals and employers. It is not complete advice.

If you require any assistance with applying for a visa or a travel exemption, or simply need advice on your situation, please get in touch to organise a telephone or online consultation with one of our lawyers.

Staying in Australia

Coming to Australia

Leaving Australia

Staying in Australia

Temporary visa holders in Australia are all currently legally able to remain in the country with a valid visa.

If your visa is due to expire, you may be able to make a further visa application without having to leave the country. This depends on the conditions attached to your current visa and the reasons for you wanting to remain the country.

Subclass 408 Temporary Activity visa – Australian Government Endorsed Events stream

The COVID-19 Pandemic has been listed as an event which falls within this stream of the Subclass 408 visa.

The purpose of the instrument is to provide a pathway for certain former and current holders of temporary visas to lawfully remain in Australia and who would otherwise be required to depart Australia who, but for the COVID-19 pandemic, are unable to leave Australia.

Individuals may be eligible for this visa if:

Subclass 482 / 457 visa holders

Stand downs and/or Reduced Hours

Sponsored employees who have been stood down, but not made redundant or terminated, will maintain their visa validity;

Sponsoring employers can reduce the hours of their sponsored employees without the visa holder being in breach of their visa condition.

These visa holders will also be able to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in this financial year.

Visa holders who have been made redundant or terminated, must observe their existing visa conditions, in particular to depart Australia within 60 days if they are unable to secure a new sponsor or apply for another visa.

Should a 4-year visa holder be re-employed after the coronavirus pandemic, their time already spent in Australia will count towards their permanent residency skilled work experience requirements.

Sponsoring employers

The Department expects that sponsors continue to comply with all relevant sponsor obligations. COVID-19 specific scenarios include:

  • keep records in relation to any agreement with a sponsored worker to reduce hours and notify the Department;
  • if reducing hours, ensure that each sponsored worker is paid their correct hourly rate as approved by the Department;
  • ensure sponsored workers continue working in same duties as approved – sometimes a proposal for a change of duties will require a new TSS Nomination process to be launched and approved before the change can be implemented;
  • if there is a change of duties proposed and no new TSS Nomination is needed, then notify the Department within 28 days of change of duties;
  • if a sponsoring employer and a sponsored worker agree to Leave Without Pay (LWOP) then keep records and notify the Department within 28 days;
  • if a sponsoring employer and a sponsored worker agree to a Stand-down with or without pay then keep records and notify the Department must be within 28 days;
  • if a sponsored worker is made redundant or laid off then notify the Department within 28 days;
  • if a sponsored worker doesn’t get another sponsor or visa and wishes to depart, then they may make a written request for the sponsoring employer to pay the reasonable costs of economy class air-tickets back to their home country;
  • keep records of the request and payment of return travel costs and notify the Department within 28 days.

Student visas

The Government has released a statement outlining the arrangements to be put in place for student visa applicants and student visa holders who have been impacted by the Covid-19 travel restrictions.

The statement lists five visa changes:

  • Grants of student visas in all locations lodged outside Australia will recommence, so visa holders will be ready to travel when borders reopen;
  • Free VACs for international students who lodge further student visa applications, if they were unable to complete their studies within their original visa validity due to Covid-19;
  • Current student visa holders studying online outside Australia due to Covid-19 will be have that study counted towards the Australian study requirement for a post-study work visa;
  • Graduates who held a student visa will be eligible to apply for a post-study work visa outside Australia, if they are unable to return due to Covid-19;
  • Additional time will be given for applicants to provide English language results where Covid-19 has disrupted access to these services

Work/ing and Holiday visas (417 and 462)

Critical work carried out in relation to Covid 19 after 31 January 2020 may now be counted towards eligibility for a second or third Subclass 417 – Working Holiday visa or Subclass 462 – Work and Holiday visa. These changes apply to 417 and 462 applications made on or after 18 August 2020.

The changes allow individuals working in these critical sectors to continue their work without having to seek out employment in ‘regional’ postcodes in order to be eligible for a further 417 or 462 visa. Critical COVID-19 work includes medical treatment, nursing, contact tracing, testing and research as well as support services such as cleaning of medical and health care facilities and equipment.

Coming to Australia

Australian citizens and permanent residents or New Zealand citizens usually resident in Australia

Can continue to travel to the country, subject to any daily passenger limits at the Airports.

Immediate family

You can travel to Australia if you are an immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident. You must provide evidence of your relationship and you must hold a valid visa before you travel.

You are only considered to be an immediate family member if you are:

  • a spouse
  • a de facto partner
  • a dependent child/ren
  • a legal guardian.

Partner (subclasses 100, 309, 801, 820) and Child (subclasses 101, 102, 445) visa holders can come to Australia. You do not need to request an exemption to Australia’s travel restrictions.

Prospective Marriage (subclass 300) visa holders can’t come to Australia at the moment

Other temporary visa holders

Temporary visa holders or applicants continue to only be able to travel into Australia under very limited circumstances. These current exempted categories of individuals include those:

1. 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

2. providing critical or specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuations and delivering critical medical supplies

3. with critical skills required to maintain the supply of essential goods and services

4. delivering services in sectors critical to Australia’s economic recovery, where no Australian worker is available

5. whose entry would otherwise be in Australia’s national interest, supported by the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority.

‘Critical skills’ has been expanded to include the following examples: medical technology, critical infrastructure, telecommunications, engineering and mining, supply chain logistics, agricultural technology, food production, and the maritime industry.

‘Critical sectors’ has been expanded to include the following examples: financial technology, large scale manufacturing, film and television production and emerging technology.

There is currently no fee associated with applying for a travel exemption, and in our experience assessment of these is currently taking between 3 days – 2 weeks. The Department recommends that an exemption should be applied for at least 4 weeks before travel is planned, but not more than 3 months in advance.

The following individuals do not require a travel exemption to enter Australia (at 13 November 2020):

  • a person who has been in New Zealand for 14 days or more immediately prior to arrival by air in Australia
  • a diplomat accredited to Australia, including their immediate family members (each member of the family unit must hold a valid subclass 995 visa)
  • a person transiting Australia for 72 hours or less
  • airline crew, maritime crew including marine pilots
  • a person recruited under the Government approved Seasonal Worker Program or Pacific Labour Scheme
  • a person who holds a Business Innovation and Investment (subclass 188) visa

Leaving Australia

Non-citizens are allowed to leave the country at any time. Temporary visa holders can leave at any time but will need to note that they will not be allowed to return unless they fall into one of the exemptions and the exemption is granted to them before they return. This is not guaranteed.

Australian citizens

Individuals in the following categories are exempt and may leave the country at any time:

  • ordinarily resident in a country other than Australia
  • an airline, maritime crew or associated safety worker
  • a New Zealand citizen holding a Special Category (subclass 444) visa
  • engaged in the day-to-day conduct of outbound freight
  • associated with essential work at Australian offshore facilities
  • travelling on official government business, including members of the Australian Defence Force.

Individuals that do not fall into the above and still wish to travel overseas will need to apply for a travel exemption to leave, under one of the following categories:

  • your travel is as part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid 
  • your travel is essential for the conduct of critical industries and business (including export and import industries)
  • you are travelling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia
  • you are travelling on urgent and unavoidable personal business
  • you are travelling on compassionate or humanitarian grounds 
  • your travel is in the national interest.

The Government advises that exemptions should be applied for at least two weeks prior to intended travel but no more than 3 months in advance.