On 23 September 2021, the Greens announced that they will introduce new legislation to extend and reinstate visas for temporary visa holders.
Specifically, the Greens legislation will reportedly:
- Extend visas by the amount of time people have been stranded overseas until the day they receive a travel exemption or the international borders are re-opened;
- Reinstate visas that have expired while a person was stranded overseas and unable to return due to the border closure;
- Apply to all temporary visa classes that have been affected by the international border closure, including:
- People with a Bridging Visa B;
- People on Skilled Visas – Subclass 482; 457; 489 and 491;
- International Students (Subclass 500); Temporary Graduate Visa Holders (Subclass 485s); and Skilled Recognised Graduate Visas (Subclass 476); and
- Tourist Visas.
The question many might be asking is whether this is a reasonable and realistic proposal.
Firstly, a visa can be extended for a fixed amount of time (except for bridging visas), such as one year or two years. Without knowing exactly the amount of time people have been stranded overseas, or the day they receive a travel exemption, or the exact date the international borders are re-opened, it is unlikely a visa can be extended the way the Greens legislation would’ve hoped for under current migration laws.
Secondly, technically speaking, a visa cannot be reinstated (except for those that can be revoked). A new visa would have to be issued in the case of an expired visa.
For a new visa to be issued, visa applicants need to meet the visa criteria set out in the migration laws. There is no telling if these people who are stranded overseas continue to meet the visa criteria. They may have become older and unable to meet the age requirement.
For a student visa applicant, they must enrol in a full-time study to be eligible for a student visa. Some students may have completed their studies online remotely whilst stuck overseas, making them ineligible for a new student visa.
Thirdly, some visas require sponsorship and/or nomination from third parties. A subclass 457/482 visa requires sponsorship from a company, whereas a subclass 489/491 requires a nomination from a regional Australian government.
There is nothing indicating these third parties would agree to such sponsorship and nomination for these visa holders.
It might be a challenge for the Greens legislation to be passed and work in practice.
When asked if Labor will support the Greens Legislation, Labor MP Julian Hill replied:
The Greens’ Bill is just another Greens stunt.
They know perfectly well that legislation cannot pass the Parliament unless the Government agrees in the House of Representatives.
That said, we will look at the bill on its merits through our ordinary processes as we do with all bills and determine our position in due course, but it won’t change anything in reality as the Government will not agree.
Temporary graduate visa subclass 485
The 485 visa is a temporary graduate visa. It is issued to students who have completed their studies for a certain amount of time in certain areas. It is issued for 18 months to two years and most commonly for two years. Most graduates use these two years to gain industry experience so that they become eligible for an employer-sponsored work visa or permanent residency.
Without these valuable two years, it is difficult for most graduates to meet the requirement for a work visa or permanent residency.
When asked how they are affected by the pandemic and being stuck overseas, many of the 485 visa holders offshore have a very sad story to tell:
“Even after being stranded for 18 months, I’m compelled to pay rent, phone services, insurance and other bills in Australia. my car is left on the street for months. All of my belongings are left in Australia.”
“I chose to study in Australia for the benefit of the 485 graduate visa, as it gives me time to gain valuable experience after graduate. But after investing all this money on university tuition fees, accommodation, food, transport in Australia, I don’t get to have the time on a 485 visa to get the experience I need.”
A visa holder also said:
“Everyday, I start my day with the hope that today there might be some good news for us. Every one of us check all the news updates and government websites. But nothing shows up. We start emailing and tweeting for help on a daily basis. It has been difficult for us to sleep at night because of the stress and anxiety.”
A petition was submitted to the Parliament of Australia by a group of 485 visa holders, with 2,108 signatures on the closing day 30 June 2021.
Unfortunately, nothing eventuated from that petition to date.
Skilled regional visa holders
491 visa holders need to reside and work for three years in regional Australia to apply for permanent residency. The 489 visa is the old version, whereas the 491 visa is the current version which came into effect in late 2019.
Losing 18 months on their visas either delay their eligibility date for permanent residency or renders them ineligible if they do not have enough time left on their visas to meet the two-to-three years regional residence and work requirement.
Interestingly, the Government did make changes for 887 visa applicants (who are 489 visa holders) on 19 September 2020 in terms of the residence and work history requirements.
489 visa holders are taken to have lived in a specified regional area for six months if they were outside Australia for a certain timeframe.
The Government also reduced the one-year work requirement to nine months for 489 visa holders affected by COVID-19, who were stranded overseas and applied for permanent residency within a certain timeframe. But there was no mention of what happens to those who hold a 491 visa. The same change could have easily been made for the 491 visa holders, but the Government appears to have chosen not to.
What does the future holds for the 485, 489 and 491 visa holders who are currently offshore? It seems that no one has a definitive answer yet.
Lina Li works as an immigration consultant in the immigration industry. She has extensive experience in the corporate migration sector and works closely with government agencies in making changes to the current migration program. You can follow Lina on Twitter @LinaImmigration.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions represented in this article belong solely to its author. They do not necessarily represent those of people or organisations that the author may be associated with.
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