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COVID-19 Immigration Update

29 Apr
Keeping you up-to-date with COVID-19 immigration in Australia!

Hello Everyone,

 

 We hope you’re all keeping safe and well in these difficult times.

 

We wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to all of our current clients and those who have already had their visas granted to provide some information on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and how it impacts your immigration status and your access to public services.

In the past few weeks we have received several updates from the Department of Home Affairs that shed some light on the impact of coronavirus on temporary and permanent visa holders and we would like to share this information to ensure you are all keeping as informed as possible.

 

We also have a resource centre on our website, a Facebook group you can join and you can sign up for our newsletter (enter your details on the website) to keep informed along the way.

 

In keeping with the government’s social distancing recommendations and to maintain a safe work environment, we are currently not offering any face-to-face consultations or meetings. However, for a limited time, we are offering our telephone consultations free of charge if you book through our website using the promotion code CY19, please feel free to share this with any friend or colleagues who might need migration advice at this time.

The information provided below is general information on the current situation, if you need specific advice tailored to your circumstances please arrange your free telephone consultation and one of our registered migration agents will be able to provide advice.

 

If you hold a visa and you are currently offshore

Returning to Australia

If you plan on returning to Australia, you may still be able to beat border lock downs if you hold an Australian visa and meet the requirements, or you are able to get permission to travel to Australia.  Please check current travel restrictions. If you hold a temporary visa, other than a subclass 309 or 820, you will need to submit a travel request before you can travel. Temporary visa holders will only be granted entry to Australia where they can demonstrate that they are the immediate family member of an Australian citizen, have compassionate and compelling reasons for the need to travel to Australia or have critical skills, including medical skills. You should also check the travel restrictions between states, as some have implemented their own border restrictions.

 

Bridging Visa B’s

For those offshore on a Bridging Visa B, with a travel authority that is coming to an end, the DHA cannot grant a new bridging visa while you are offshore. If you are in this situation, you should contact your migration agent as soon as possible to discuss other options. If you can obtain a new tourist visa when the travel restrictions are lifted you can return to Australia and apply for reinstatement of your Bridging Visa A.

 

First entry dates

For those that have been granted a visa with a first entry date, we recommend you contact the DHA at the email address that accompanied your visa grant notice to request an extension to allow travel – or ask us to do this for you. If such an extension exceeds the dates for your health or character certificates’ expiry, you may have to provide new ones before you can travel, after bans are lifted.

 

Medical Examinations

Due to COVID-19 the onshore medical provider, Bupa Medical Visa Services, have had to substantially reduce their appointments and have changed the way they are taking bookings. You will now need to complete the Request for Appointment form. They will then contact you to make a booking, and no action is required from you.

Appointments are being prioritised based on guidance from the DHA. If you have received a request from the DHA to have your medical done by a certain date you should submit the request for appointment form asap.

The DHA are aware that there is difficulty in getting a medical appointment at this time, so as long as you have made the effort to get one by submitting the form then they should allow additional time for the medical to be completed. I would suggest providing the confirmation details of submitting the request for appointment to your migration agent or upload it to your application via the Immi Account as evidence of this.

 

Police Checks

Police checks from overseas have always taken some time, however with various lockdowns and social distancing measures around the world they are taking even longer. Some countries that require you to apply in person, like Ireland, are in total lock down so you cannot even apply for police checks at this time. For others, there are issues with getting fingerprints done or lack of resources to process the applications. If you will need police checks for an application, apply for them sooner than later, as we just do not know how long this will last in Australia or elsewhere.

AFP checks can be done online and don’t seem to be affected at this time.

The DHA are aware that the COVID-19 crisis impacts your ability to provide police checks within the given time frame, however it is important that you save any confirmation or receipt of your application and provide this to your migration agent or upload it to your application via Immiaccount to demonstrate you have taken the required steps to obtain the clearance.

 

Certifying Documents

The days of quickly getting your documents or statutory declarations signed by an authorised witness at the last minute are over. Please be aware that many of the common authorised witnesses such as pharmacists, police stations, JPs, lawyers etc are not offering certifying services at this time. Make sure to plan ahead. If you have documents or statutory declarations to be certified , don’t leave it to the last minute and call ahead to see if your authorised witness of choice is available and able to assist. If you’re applying for a partner visa and are asking friends or family to fill in a Form 888, make sure to pass this information on to them.

Courts and other agencies are currently accepting unsworn documents, with the proviso that as soon as the document can be witnessed or sworn, the witnessed/sworn document is provided.

 

Subclass 408 Visa/COVID-19 Stream

You may already be aware that the Department of Home Affairs has implemented a new stream of the subclass 408 visa in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This visa has no application fee and will not attract the STAC fee. You may be eligible for this visa subclass if you are currently working in a critical sector or currently in a position where you are unable to return home and are not eligible for another visa subclass. Further information on the 408 visa form is available on our website.

If you need specific information about your individual eligibility for the 408 visa, please book you free telephone consultation.

 

Subclass 457/482 Primary Visa Holders

For many of you, this time will be the most difficult because the conditions on your visas require you to work for your sponsoring employer full time, and only for your sponsoring employer. The Department of Home Affairs has advised that Temporary Skill Shortage and subclass 457 visa holders who have been stood down, but not laid off, will maintain a valid visa and businesses will have the opportunity to extend your visa as per normal arrangements. Businesses will be able to reduce your hours without you being in breach of your visa conditions or the business being in breach of their employer obligations.

For those who are facing uncertainty in your employment, it may help to know you can take unpaid leave without breaching the conditions of your visa. Generally, this leave should not exceed 3 months unless exceptional circumstances will apply. I would expect coronavirus would be considered extenuating circumstances, although it does depend on how it progresses. For example if the restrictions caused by coronavirus continued on for six months, then it would probably be fine to extend the unpaid leave for the duration of that time, however, if it miraculously cleared up in two months, then taking over three months unpaid leave probably wouldn’t be as ok. It does depend on how everything as a whole pans out, and also how the employer is affected.

Unpaid leave does not have to be in a single block. The unpaid leave agreement could include unpaid leave days in a week, rather than a big block of unpaid leave.

There should be an unpaid leave agreement between the employer and employee. The formal agreement should include a written request by the employee and written approval by the employer for the unpaid leave. It should also document the terms of the leave.

Unpaid leave is separate to the 60 days in which you could be without employment. The 60 days would apply if your employment was terminated.

If you are thinking about applying for the 186 through the transitional stream a reminder that periods of unpaid leave do not count towards the time required with your employer.

For most of you in this position, your visas will have already been granted so you will not be current clients. Keep informed with any updates and if you hear anything that might affect you, we would be happy to answer some of the questions you might have about it.

 

Condition 8503 (No further stay)

If you currently hold a temporary visa with a 8503 condition that is preventing you from lodging another application while in Australia, and you are unable to return to your home country due to the COVID-19 crisis, you may want to consider lodging a request to have condition 8503 waived.

Currently, the DHA is taking a generous view of waiving condition 8503.

Condition 8503 will only be waived where:

  1. Since the person was granted the visa that was subject to the condition, compelling and compassionate circumstances have developed:
  2. Over which the person had no control; and
  3. That resulted in a major change to the person’s circumstances.

Please see our website for further details.

 

Accessing Your Superannuation

If you are impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, you may be able to access up to $10,000 of your superannuation between now and July, and then another $10,000 after July.

The last date to claim superannuation payments is 24 September 2020.

There are restrictions on who will be eligible. Permanent residents and citizens of both Australia and New Zealand have different eligibility criteria to temporary residents. These criteria can be found here.

For temporary residents, you must meet one of the following criteria to be eligible:

  • You hold a student visa that you have held for 12 months or more and you are unable to meet immediate living expenses.
  • You are a temporary skilled work visa holder, your working hours have reduced to zero and you remain engaged with your employer.
  • You are a temporary resident visa holder (excluding student or skilled worker visas) and you cannot meet immediate living expenses.

From April 20th, you will be able to apply via the MyGov website. Initially, you will not be required to present evidence of your circumstances but it is strongly advised that you assess your situation truthfully and accurately as the government could ask for proof at any time.

 

Centrelink & FairWork & other financial help

There have been a few new welfare initiatives announced. Information on eligibility and other specifics about Centrelink or welfare payments is outside the scope of our expertise. You can contact Services Australia for more info.

The Australian Red Cross has initiated a government funded program to provide emergency assistance to temporary visa holders with no means to support themselves. Visa holders may be eligible for the Red Cross Safety Net if they are in Australia on a temporary visa, are in urgent financial hardship, cannot access Medicare, Centrelink or similar services and have no income, savings or other financial support. Further details are available on the Red Cross website.

The State Government of Tasmania has announced last week that they will be providing a support system for temporary visa holders. You can see the Premier’s press release here and more information on the support schemes being extended to temporary residents here.

The State Government in South Australia has announced a support package available to international students undergoing financial hardship. Further details on the scheme are available here.

Similarly to information on Centrelink, information on employment law is outside the scope of our services. You would be best to contact Fairwork for further advice on issues with your employment.

 

Citizenship Tests & Ceremonies

Due to tight restrictions on gatherings, all upcoming citizenship ceremonies are being help by Skype.. If this applies to you, you will receive an email to notify you of this.

Make sure to keep your postal and email  addresses are up to date.

 

Processing Times

While nothing has been officially announced, the DHA is almost certainly not working at capacity. Unfortunately, due to privacy, they probably won’t be able to work from home. We have noticed a substantial decrease in DHA activity, particularly decisions on non-urgent applications (mostly bridging visas). If you have a visa application processing, don’t be concerned if it takes longer than otherwise expected. With that being said, you should not delay providing documents for your application. Your applications can still be decided during this time.

 

Don’t be scammed!

Apparently, there are lost of scammers trying to take away your money at the moment – even your superannuation. Please don’t give your details to just anyone, and the government’s Scamwatch website emphasises the following,

Never follow a hyperlink to reach the myGov website. Instead, you should always type the full name of the website into your browser yourself.Scamwatch

 

In conclusion

Make sure to keep up to date on the prime minister’s media releases and the state government media releases so that you can stay up to date with any new restrictions or changes that might affect you.

For those who have had visas already granted, that are not currently active clients, if you have any questions about how the changes might affect you feel free to contact us and we would be happy to try and answer your questions.

Hoping you are all keeping safe and healthy. This will pass, and let’s face it, Australia has done extremely well so far!

Onwards and upwards, and remember, contact us at any time if you have any questions.

 

Best wishes from your team at AHWC Immigration Law 😊

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