When COVID-19 started spreading across the world, and Australia implemented restrictions to its international borders in response to this, many assumed that restrictions had also been put in place for Australia’s visa programs. This is not, in fact, true, as there are currently no restrictions on someone applying for, and receiving, an Australian visa. However, this does not mean that the COVID-19 pandemic has not had any impact on migrating to Australia.
This article examines how the pandemic has impacted on Australian visas and what this means for someone who is considering applying for an Australian visa.
What impact has COVID-19 had on applying for a visa?
The pandemic is not preventing those interested in applying for an Australian visa from doing so. Whether you are inside or outside Australia, you can still lodge a visa application for any Australian visa the same as you could before the pandemic hit. However, even though the lodging of visa applications is still ‘business as usual’, the pandemic has impacted on Australia’s visa program in a few ways.
Australia, like most countries around the world, has put in place border restrictions to help stop the spread of COVID-19. As a result, there is a common misconception among those interested in applying for an Australian visa that the border restrictions do not allow anyone outside Australia to enter the country.
While Australia’s international borders are currently closed to anyone who is not an Australian citizen, permanent resident, or the spouse or de facto partner of an Australian citizen or permanent resident, there are a couple of ways that a non-resident can enter the country.
Firstly, immigration will allow you into Australia if you can demonstrate that there are ‘compelling and compassionate’ reasons for you to be allowed into the country.
An example of someone who has compelling and compassionate reasons for entering Australia is a health worker who is arriving to assist with the response to the pandemic. A person seeking to travel to Australia to visit a terminally ill relative might also be able to demonstrate that they have compelling and compassionate reasons to enter the country.
Secondly, if you have applied for a permanent visa and this application has been approved, then you will be able to enter the country, subject to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a designated Australian hotel. This is because a permanent visa entitles you to permanent residency from the date that the visa is granted. In most instances, you will have up to 5 years to enter the country upon receiving PR.
What the current border restrictions essentially mean for visa holders is that if you hold a temporary visa, you will not be able to enter the country with this visa, even if it is still valid.
The most common temporary visas are tourist visas, working holiday visas and student visas. There are also a number of temporary visas, namely business, investment, entrepreneur, work, skilled and family visas that are also subject to the current border restrictions.
It should not come as a shock that the pandemic has had an impact on the processing times for visa applications. These delays have mainly been caused by immigration officers having to work from home and adjust to new processes. Many officers located abroad have also been forced to return to Australia for health and safety reasons which have impacted on processing times.
Some visas, such as the distinguished talent visa, are not having their processing times impacted at all by the pandemic. However, most visas are experiencing delays of up to 2-3 months on top of usual processing times.
This means that if you were looking at applying for a visa that typically has lengthy processing times, it may be prudent to start the application process earlier than you ordinarily would.
If you would like to learn more about processing times for Australian visas, you can learn more here.
To be eligible for a business, entrepreneur, investment, or certain skilled visas, you need to have obtained a nomination from an Australian State or Territory government. You usually seek a nomination from the Australian State or Territory that you wish to live and undertake your business, entrepreneur, investment, or employment activities in.
For example, if you were seeking to start a new business in Brisbane, then you would seek to obtain a nomination from Business and Skilled Migration Queensland.
A nomination is essentially an endorsement from the relevant State or Territory government agency that you are a good candidate for the visa that you are seeking to apply for. Receiving a nomination does not guarantee that you will get the visa you are interested in applying for. Still, it does generally provide a good indication that you have good prospects of success.
Each Australian State and Territory has its own set of criteria for providing nominations to visa applicants. You should check the website for the relevant agency to find these.
Under normal circumstances, immigration provides the States and Territories with a quota for each financial year (1 July – 30 June). This quota determines how many nominations the States and Territories can provide for each visa category. If a State or Territory reaches its quota before the end of the financial year, then they will need to wait until they receive their quota for the next fiscal year before they can provide more nominations.
At present, the States and Territories are still waiting for confirmation from immigration as to what their nomination quotas will be for this financial year. This means that they are unable to provide nominations for any visa applicants until these figures are released. As a result, the States and Territories are advising applicants not to submit a nomination application until this year’s quota is determined.
We have received information that nomination programs across all States and Territories could return to business as usual at the end of the month. However, there is a possibility that this will not happen until the federal budget is released in October this year, or even after this.
You can subscribe to our mailing list here [link to enquiry form] to stay informed about when the nomination programs will reopen.
What Should I Do If I Am Interested In Applying For A Temporary Visa?
It is always prudent to talk to a migration lawyer or agent before applying for any visa, and given the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, this advice is more relevant than ever. Because every visa applicant’s circumstances are different, there is no blueprint as to what you should do if you are considering applying for a temporary visa.
However, some of the things that you may want to consider before applying for a temporary visa include:
- What is the main reason why you are applying for the visa? For example, if you wish to apply for a student visa so that you can study on campus at an Australian university, then you may want to consider waiting for changes to the current border restrictions before lodging your application.
- What is the processing time for the visa you’re interested in applying for? Some visas, such as the 188 Business Innovation visa, can take up to 24 months from start to finish. Although it is impossible to predict how long COVID-19 will impact international travel, if you are interested in applying for a visa with a lengthy time frame, it may be prudent to start your visa application soonest. Applying now could avoid even further delays once the borders reopen.
- Are there any alternatives available? For example, if you are a highly skilled worker, then you may be better served to apply for a distinguished talent visa rather than a temporary business, investment, or work visa.
If you are unsure how the pandemic impacts on your migration goals, please do not hesitate to contact us and one of our migration experts will provide you with advice that is tailored towards your unique circumstances.