The federal government announced it would support Australia’s tourism and hospitality industry by offering visa flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The existing work hour limits for student visa holders— currently at 40 hours fortnightly—will be lifted for those employed in the tourism and hospitality industry. There are currently about 350,000 student visa holders in Australia.
Temporary visa holders working in or intending to work in the tourism and hospitality industry will also be able to apply for the 408 COVID-19 Pandemic Event Visa 90 days before their existing visa expires.
The 408 COVID-19 Pandemic Event Visa lasts for a period of 12 months and is already open to key industries of agriculture, food processing, health care, aged care, disability care, and child care.
While the international border closure has dealt a severe blow to the tourism and hospitality industry, it has also resulted in the loss of a large number of student visa holders and backpackers (working holiday visa holders), a group that had long been a steady labour source for the sector, especially in regional hotspots.
“Government has listened carefully to the States, Territories, and industry and is introducing these changes to support critical sectors for Australia’s COVID-19 economic recovery,” Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said in a statement on Saturday.
“Tourism and hospitality employ more than half a million Australians, and these changes will allow them to supplement their existing workforce to keep their businesses running in addition to generating employment through a job multiplier effect.
“I am continuing to take feedback and advice from a range of sectors and will make further announcements on temporary visa flexibility measures and priority skills in the near future,” he said.
The news about the visas comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned on Sunday that the Australian border would remain closed for a long time. He said he had no idea when immigrants can return, considering that the COVID-19 pandemic is now a medium-term challenge rather than a short-term one.
“International borders will only open when it is safe to do so. We still have a long way to go, and there are still many uncertainties ahead,” Morrison said.