The COVID-19 pandemic has brought all kinds of challenges since the first case of coronavirus in Australia, especially for immigration. As we start the New Year, even more changes are anticipated for Australian immigration law and below is a summary of the upcoming changes that have been flagged in the news. It is safe to say that students, graduates and working holiday makers, are the big winners in these initiatives taken by the Australian Government for the nation's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and immediate response to the current critical workforce shortages currently faced by Australian businesses.
1. Switzerland added to the Working Holiday Maker program from 1 January 2022
On 23 November 2021, the Australian Government announced that Switzerland will join Australia's Working Holiday Maker program from 1 January 2022. This will allow young people from Switzerland, aged between 18 and 30, to apply for a Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visa.
In exchange, Australians will be eligible for visa free travel to Switzerland.
Australia's Working Holiday Maker program has been running since 1975 and currently has over 40 partner countries. Under this 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.
For further details, please see the Minister's announcement.
2. Other changes to the Working Holiday Maker program
Generally, unless an exception applies, visa holders will only be able to work for the same employer for up to 6 months. However, on 19 January 2022, the Government has announced that effective immediately and until the end of 2022, this restriction is lifted. Working Holiday Makers (WHM) can work for the same employer until the end of 2022. 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 visa application charge (VAC) for their WHM visa. Eligible WHM visa holders will be able to apply for a refund of their VAC until 31 December 2022.
Since 15 December 2021, fully vaccinated eligible visa holders including WHM (subclass 417 and subclass 462 visa holders) can come to Australia without a travel exemption approval.
Further details can be found in this joint media release.
Working holiday visa holders working in the tourism and hospitality sectors in Northern, remote and very remote areas of Australia will be able to count this as specified work, making them eligible for a second or third working holiday visa. This option will be available for working holiday visa applications lodged from March 2022.
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.
These changes are intended to assist with Australia's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and aim to provide immediate assistance to Australian businesses that are currently facing critical workforce shortages.
3. Student visa concessions- refund of VAC and temporary lifting of work restrictions
In the joint media release on 19 January 2022, the Australian Government has also announced that student visa holders 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 visa holders. This announcement also sees the temporary removal of the working hours limitation for student visa holders across all sectors. This concession also applies to secondary student visa holders. The Department has announced that this measure will be reviewed in April 2022.
4. Developments for the Temporary Graduate subclass 485 visa holders
- Visa extension or enlivening
On 18 February 2022, certain eligible Temporary Graduate (subclass 485) visa holders will have their visas extended or enlivened to 30 September 2022. The visa extension is free and will occur automatically. The visa extension will include family members that were included in the original Temporary Graduate visa. Visa holders eligible for an extension will be notified directly by the Department. For further details, please see the Department media release.
- COVID-19 Temporary Graduate (subclass 485) replacement stream visa
The Department has announced on 29 November 2021 that applications for the COVID-19 Temporary Graduate replacement stream visa will open on 1 July 2022. The Temporary Graduate replacement stream visa will give current and former visa holders impacted by COVID-19 travel restrictions the same length of stay as their original visa.
Further details on the application requirements are expected to be provided in the coming months.
- Subclass 485 visa validity period
The length of stay for the subclass 485 visa granted to Masters by coursework graduates is now being increased from 2 to 3 years, in line with the visa validity period granted to Masters by Research graduates. Similarly, the visa validity period for the Subclass 485 Graduate Work stream visa granted from 1 December 2021 is also temporarily increased to 24 months from 18 months.
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