On 20 March 2020, the Australian government implemented a travel ban to prevent all non-residents and non-citizens from entering the country. This can pose issues for those on employee visas. Currently, no one can enter the country unless they are:

  • an Australian citizen;
  • an Australian permanent resident;
  • a New Zealand citizen usually residing in Australia;
  • immediate family members (this includes spouse, de facto partner, dependent children and legal guardians) of Australian citizens or permanent residents;
  • transiting; or
  • exempt, as determined by the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force (ABF).

Australian businesses/employers wanting to sponsor foreign workers (who are offshore) on visa subclasses 482, 407 and/or invite them on a subclass 400 or 408, will need to re-think their options while the travel ban is in place.

Additional Exemptions

However, some foreign workers may be exempt from the COVID-19 travel restrictions. The ABF is considering additional exemptions for:

  • foreign nationals travelling to assist in the COVID-19 response;
  • critical medical services;
  • people with critical skills;
  • diplomats; and
  • on a case-by-case basis, for those carrying out humanitarian relief.
The employer or foreign worker will need to apply for an exemption and it must be granted prior to entering Australia.

Temporary Offshore Workers

Sponsored or foreign workers who are:

  • currently offshore; and
  • cannot re-enter before their visa expires;

will need to apply for new employee visas to allow them to enter the country when the travel ban is lifted. If your sponsored/foreign worker was a temporary visa holder when they left Australia and has since been granted permanent residency, they should contact the office that granted their visa, but only when they are in a position to travel to Australia again.

Applicants for temporary and permanent visas will receive additional time to obtain:

  • health assessments;
  • police clearance
  • English language testing; and
  • to provide additional requested information.

Applicants granted a new visa which requires them to be in Australia at the time of application or grant, and are unable to return, will need to apply for a new visa once the travel restrictions are lifted.

Bridging Visa Holders

If you have employees that hold bridging visas, they will be affected by the travel ban if they are offshore. This could include people on a Bridging Visa A (BVA) who have subsequently been granted a Bridging Visa B (BVB), allowing them to travel.

There is no ability to extend a BVB travel period after the bridging visa has been granted. If the bridging visa expires while they are outside Australia, then they will need to apply for a new visa. Bridging visas cannot be granted if the employee is outside Australia.

Key Takeaways

There are wide range of implications for your sponsored and foreign workforce in and outside of Australia as a result of the COVID-19 travel ban. These include:

  • sponsoring or inviting foreign workers that are currently offshore;
  • temporary visa holders that are outside of Australia when the travel ban commenced;
  • exemptions to the travel ban; and
  • bridging visa holders that are soon to expire.