After months of uncertainty and confusion around Australia’s travel restrictions, the Australian Government has now created a number of key exemptions that slowly reintroduce pathways for overseas skilled workers to return to Australia.

Since 20 March 2020, there are travel restrictions prohibiting all but Australian citizens and permanent residents and immediate family members from entering Australia.  However, prospective travellers may apply for an individual exemption provided that they meet one of the following:

  • a non-citizen travelling at the invitation of the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response
  • providing critical or specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuations and delivering critical medical supplies
  • a non-citizen with critical skills or working in a critical sector in Australia
  • a non-citizen sponsored by an employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL)
  • a non-citizen whose entry would otherwise be in the national interest, supported by the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority
  • military personnel, including those who form part of the Status of Forces Agreement, Commonwealth Armed Forces, Asia Pacific Forces and Status of Armed Forces Agreement
  • travelling for compassionate and compelling reasons.

On 2 September 2020, the Australian Government added that a non-citizen sponsored by his/her employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) to the list of grounds for travel exemptions.

Visa holders and visa applicants who have been sponsored by an Australian business in a PMSOL occupation can request an exemption from Australia’s travel restrictions to enter Australia.  You may refer below for a list of occupations on PMSOL.

Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL)

Employer-sponsored nomination and visa applications with an occupation on the PMSOL will be given priority processing.  All other skilled occupation lists will remain active, but the PMSOL occupations will take priority.

The 17 occupations (ANZSCO code) are:

  • Developer Programmer (261312)
  • Software Engineer (261313)
  • Chief Executive or Managing Director (111111)
  • Construction Project Manager (133111)
  • Mechanical Engineer (233512)
  • General Practitioner (253111)
  • Resident Medical Officer (253112)
  • Psychiatrist (253411)
  • Medical Practitioner nec (253999)
  • Midwife (254111)
  • Registered Nurse (Aged Care) (254412)
  • Registered Nurse (Critical Care and Emergency) (254415)
  • Registered Nurse (Medical) (254418)
  • Registered Nurse (Mental Health) (254422)
  • Registered Nurse (Perioperative) (254423)
  • Registered Nurses nec (254499)
  • Maintenance Planner (312911)

The Government media statement is available here.

Labour Market Testing and the Jobactive website

Importantly, the initial return to a semblance of normalcy has been accompanied by some added regulatory requirements in the form of an additional step with respect to Labour Market Testing.

The Government has launched the Jobactive website which is a free service that connects Australia’s growing unemployed and underemployed with Australian employers and vice versa.  From 1 October 2020, sponsoring employers must also post the job advertisement on the Jobactive website to comply with the LMT requirements.

At first instance, the Jobactive website looks much like any other job board however it will be interesting to see how the data collected therein will be used in the decision-making process.

We would posit that data around job advertisements and candidates could potentially be used as a reason to refuse a nomination and whilst this may be considered ultra vires (beyond power), it still forms part of the data that can be relied upon to make a decision.

Due to the interrelationship between unemployment and labour market testing, the use of the Jobactive website together with progressive analytic technology (currently being deployed by the Department of Home Affairs) could give rise to a new form of evidence that places the onus on the employer to address the employment of the nominee.  We may start seeing a request for information with the following:

  • Why are you sponsoring the nominee when candidate A applied via the Jobactive website (with departmental analytics suggesting that candidate A is a suitable candidate)?

Student visa corridor

Whilst the rest of the world has remained open to foreign students returning to school, Australia has locked down its borders and has maintained a prohibitive stance until the recent announcement by the Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham that a pilot program of approximately 300 students would be used to test whether a return of international students nationally could be managed.

The students from South East Asia will fly from Singapore to Australia in early September and be forced to undergo a mandatory supervised quarantine, like all international travellers, on arrival.  Universities have agreed to pay for the hotel quarantine program for arriving students.

This also marks an important development for the Australian economy to recalibrate after the effects of Government imposed lockdown and travel restrictions which have been debilitating on many industries.

To preserve the international student market, the Australian Government has now ensured that:

  • Grants of student visas in all locations lodged outside Australia will recommence, so visa holders will be ready to travel when borders reopen
  • Free VACs for international students who lodge further student visa applications, if they were unable to complete their studies within their original visa validity due to COVID-19
  • Current student visa holders studying online outside Australia due to COVID-19 will have that study counted towards the Australian study requirement for a post-study work visa
  • Graduates who held a student visa will be eligible to apply for a post-study work visa outside Australia if they are unable to return due to COVID-19
  • Additional time will be given for applicants to provide English language results where COVID-19 has disrupted access to these services.

If you are interested to learn more about anything appearing in this alert, feel free to reach out to one of our lawyers or contact us.