COVID-19 Concessions for Student and Working Holiday Maker visa holders
Student visa holders and young people on Working Holiday Maker visas in Australia have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns preventing them from attending school or work. Others may have gone back to their home country for financial reasons or lack of government support, especially at the start of the pandemic. Despair not, for relief is at hand.
The Australian Government has recently announced initiatives to ease the burden for this cohort and to encourage those who had left to return to Australia. These measures are designed to assist the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and immediate response to the current critical workforce shortages currently faced by Australian businesses.
Concessions for student visa holders
In the joint media release on 19 January 2022, the Australian Government announced that student visa holders (who include school students) who arrive in Australia between 19 January 2022 and 19 March 2022 will be eligible for a refund of their visa application charge (VAC). The VAC refund includes secondary/family members who are also visa holders.
The Government’s announcement also provides for the temporary removal of the working hours limitation (40 hours per fortnight while course is in session) for student visa holders across all sectors. This effectively allows student visa holders to have unlimited work rights and to work even before commencing their course of studies. This is a major change from the Government’s previous position, which only saw the concession offered to those working in aged care and supermarkets. This concession also applies to secondary student visa holders. The Department of Home Affairs has indicated that this measure will be reviewed in April 2022.
Concessions for Working Holiday Maker visa holders
Under Australia’s Working Holiday Maker program, young people can apply for a Working Holiday (subclass 417) visa or a Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visa. A working holiday visa will allow the holder to stay in Australia for up to one year while undertaking short-term work and study. Such short-term work can include non-teaching roles in schools, such as grounds staff, coaches, administration staff and so on.
Generally, unless an exception applies, Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa holders will only be able to work for the same employer for up to 6 months. COVID-induced lockdowns and quarantine requirements have made it difficult, if not impossible for WHM visa holders to find work or start new jobs. On 19 January 2022, the Government announced that effective immediately and until the end of 2022, this 6-month work restriction is lifted. WHM visa holders can work for the same employer until the end of 2022. This is surely a win/win for both the employers and working holiday makers as it helps to ease labour shortages and provides employment flexibility and perhaps added certainty for the visa holders. The Government has also announced that WHM visa holders who arrive in Australia from 19 January 2022 to 19 April 2022 can apply for a refund of the VAC for their WHM visa. Eligible WHM visa holders will be able to apply for a refund of their VAC until 31 December 2022.
Further details can be found in this joint media release.
Additionally, eligible current and former working holiday visa holders in Australia will also be able to apply for another working holiday visa at no cost. Further details can be found in the Minister’s announcement.
Looking to the future?
While these concessions are unlikely to reverse the growth in irregular work, they do open up more employment opportunities for international students and working holiday makers, which would have been limited. The work experience gained today is critical for these young people’s future, especially if they are contemplating skilled migration. Equally, the concessions provide more opportunities for schools to recruit working holiday makers to fill demand for specific roles like sport or debating coaches.