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Whilst the Australian international borders remain closed to temporary visa holders, some movement can be felt as the Department of Home Affairs (DoHA) releases a list of newly available travel exemptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further activity can be sensed with recent announcements from DoHA relating to the employer sponsored permanent residency subclasses, and in the fast tracking of applications for permanent residency under the Global Talent Independent program.

GTI Program Fast Tracking Applicants to Permanent Residency

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2,685 invitations have been issued to applicants to apply for a Distinguished Talent visa under the Global Talent Independent (GTI) program between 1 January 2020 and 9 September 2020. The GTI program was launched in November 2019 and is currently the fastest pathway to permanent residency in Australia, with processing times between two days to two months. Further evidence of DoHA’s prioritisation of the GTI program is the recent tripling of the visa allocation from 5,000 visas in 2019-20 to 15,000 visas in 2020-21.

DoHA are aiming to target the following sectors under the program:

  • AgTech
  • Space and Advanced Manufacturing
  • FinTech
  • Energy & Mining Technology
  • MedTech
  • Cyber Security
  • Quantum Information, Advanced Digital, Data Science & ICT

On 14 November 2020 significant changes were made to the program by:

  • removing the offshore Distinguished Talent visa (subclass 124); and
  • amending the onshore Distinguished Talent visa (subclass 858) to:
    • allow applicants to be either inside or outside Australia;
    • allow those inside Australia to be the holder of an Australian substantive visa or a Bridging Visa A, B or C; and
    • allow applicants to access a health waiver where required.

The availability of a health waiver is particularly significant as it allows for the grant of the visa if the applicant or a family member suffers from a health issue that would otherwise result in a visa refusal.

It is also worth highlighting that the Distinguished Talent visa (subclass 858) is a permanent visa and therefore, once granted, a travel exemption to travel to Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic is not required.

Company Sponsored Permanent Residency Updates

KPMG welcomes the following transitional arrangements and age exemption concessions recently announced by the DoHA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Transitional Arrangements

Significant transitional arrangements have been announced relating to a specific category of applicants applying for permanent residence under the Temporary Residence Transition (TRT) stream of the Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186) or Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 187) visa.

The specific category of applicants able to access the transitional arrangements are those who held a Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457) on 18 April 2017 (or had applied for a subclass 457 visa on/before 18 April 2017 that was subsequently granted).

The impact of the transitional arrangements is to provide concessions for applicants whose hours of work were reduced or who were required to take unpaid leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Age Exemption Concession

Current legislation stipulates that the primary applicant for the Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186) or Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 187) visa must not have turned 45 at the time of lodgement of the application. Certain applicants under TRT stream can access exemptions from this age criteria based on receiving earnings equal to or greater than the Fair Work High Income Threshold over the 3 years prior to lodgement of the application.

New age exemption concessions have been announced for those whose earnings have been affected by a COVID-19 related employment change, meaning the individual will continue to be eligible for the age exemption despite being required to work at a reduced salary, working reduced hours, working part-time, being unable to work full-time or being stood down. A pro rata income threshold for the period in which the earnings were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic may also be applied where applicable.

These transitional arrangements and age exemption concessions will be available for applications lodged on or after 1 February 2020 and before 24 November 2020 (but not yet finalised), or on or after 24 November 2020. The concession period is defined as commencing on 1 February 2020.

The Explanatory Statement accompanying the new legislation notes that the transitional arrangements and age exemption concessions are in response to the severe disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the Australian labour market. They aim to ensure that specific individuals who would otherwise be eligible to apply for company sponsored permanent residence are not disadvantaged as a result of the pandemic.

Labour Market Testing

The DoHA has also confirmed that it is taking a broad approach to assessing Labour Market Testing for nomination applications lodged under all streams of the Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186) and Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 187) visas. This broad approach includes an expectation that assessing case officers will pay more attention to factors relevant in the current COVID-19 environment, including whether the employer has sought to find an Australian worker to fill the role, such as through advertising on the Government’s Jobactive website or other national advertisements.

This approach is more flexible than the current approach taken by DoHA under the Temporary Skill Shortage visa (subclass 482) where evidence of a total of three advertisements is required, one of which must be an advertisement published on the Government’s Jobactive website.

New Travel Exemptions

Additional classes of persons are now able to enter Australia without a travel exemption. These include:

  • a person who has been in New Zealand for 14 days or more immediately prior to arrival by air in Australia
  • a diplomat accredited to Australia, including their immediate family members (each member of the family unit must hold a valid subclass 995 visa)
  • a person transiting Australia for 72 hours or less
  • airline crew, maritime crew including marine pilots
  • a person recruited under the Government approved Seasonal Worker Program or Pacific Labour Scheme
  • a person who holds a Business Innovation and Investment (subclass 188) visa.
For full details on classes of persons who are currently permitted to enter Australia without a travel exemption, or for assistance with requesting a travel exemption, please contact KPMG.
 

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