A large number of visa holders have been directly impacted by the restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and have been facing uncertainty about their future in Australia. The COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in complex issues for these visa holders, many of whom are on the pathway to permanent residency.
The disadvantages faced by these visa holders has led to the introduction of the Migration Amendment (COVID-19 Concessions) Regulations 2020 (the Regulations) which commenced on 19 September 2020. The Regulations aim to support disadvantaged temporary and provisional visa holders impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions in the ‘concession period’ which commenced on 1 February 2020.
The new Regulations introduce amendments which provide concessions to visa requirements and/or conditions which are no longer able to be met due to the impact of the pandemic, this impact includes disruptions such as border closures, restrictions on businesses and the economic impact caused by the pandemic.
Importantly, COVID-19 concessions are currently only available to the following visa holders and applicants:
- Subclass 887 visa
- Subclass 888 visa
- Subclass 188 visa
- Subclass 790 visa
- Subclass 485 visa
The concessions include:
Skilled Regional Visa (Subclass 887)
During the concession period applicants for the subclass 887 visa can lodge their application offshore and be granted the visa offshore. Furthermore, applicants who lodge their applications outside of Australia during the concession period can access shorter employment requirements and shorter residency requirements.
The current requirement is to prove at least two years of residency in a regional or designated area of Australia and at least 12 months of full-time employment in this two-year period within the regional or designated area whilst holding an eligible visa.
The new concession allows applicants applying within the concession period (or no later than three months after the end of the concession period) to satisfy the requirements by proving the following:
- At least 9 months of full-time employment in a specific regional area; and
- At least 18 months of residence in a specified regional area with a concession of up to 6 months if the applicant was offshore within the concession period and made the application offshore.
Please note, If you are lodging your application onshore in Australia, you are only entitled to the employment concession and cannot claim the residency concession available under the Regulations.
Business Innovation and Investment (Permanent) subclass 888 visas
There are concessions available to provisional subclass 188 visa holders impacted by the travel restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These concessions will allow these visa holders to apply for a subclass 888 (permanent) visa if their provisional visa expired during the ‘concession period.’ This concession is only available if the application is lodged no more than three months after the end of the concession period.
Additionally, subclass 188a (innovation stream) visa holders who were granted the visa before 1 July 2019 will be able to apply for a subclass 188 extension visa as long as the application is made no more than three months after the end of the concession period. They will also be able to apply for a second extension due to the impact of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Subclass 188b (investor stream) visa holders who were granted their visa before 1 July 2019 will be able to withdraw or cancel their investments during the concession period if the holder has met the requirement to live in Australia for two years.
Subclass 188c (significant investor stream) visa holders who were granted their visa before 1 July 2019 will be able to withdraw or cancel their balancing investment during the concession period, while maintaining their investment in venture capitol and emerging companies.
These are the major concessions applicable to the permanent business innovation and investor visa program.
Subclass 485 (Temporary Graduate) visas
Former student visa holders may now apply for and be granted a subclass 485 visa from outside or inside of Australia during the concession period.
Visa applicants outside of Australia will now be able to satisfy the requirements if they met the Australian Study Requirement in the 12 months immediately before they lodge their application, rather than 6 months. This will allow offshore applicants who would otherwise be deemed ineligible due to the passage of time between their study and the lodgement of the application an opportunity to apply for the subclass 485 visa. Please note, this will only be available in circumstances where the applicant was outside Australia during all or part of the period starting on 1 February 2020 and ending on 19 September 2020.
Subclass 790 (Safe Haven Enterprise) visas
SHEV or former SHEV holders can now count periods of time during the concession period toward their 42-month regional work and study period.
This is irrespective of whether they are receiving special benefit payments, unemployed or work outside a SHEV regional area (as long as they work in an essential service as specified by the Minister).
The intention behind the introduction of the COVID-19 concessions is to support and protect the possible migration pathways which would have been available to migrants had the restrictions imposed by the pandemic not been introduced.
The concession period commences from 1 February 2020 and is only available in the specific circumstances we have outlined.
It is important to be wary when considering your eligibility for the concessions listed, as case officers will likely assess these on a case by case basis to ensure the concessions are not utilised by applicants who were not directly impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions.
Contact us for more details about the COVID-19 concessions to determine if you are eligible now on 07 3009 8412 or at [email protected]
Migration Lawyer and Agent (MARN: 1910236)