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Australia: 2021 Immigration Update

A summary of major Australian Immigration Updates 2020-2021

2 July 2021
Australia’s National Cabinet agreed to temporarily reduce Australia’s current international passenger arrivals by 50% (to 3085 arrivals per week) to manage pressure on quarantine facilities. Reduced passenger caps will come into effect on Wednesday 14 July and remain in place until 31 August. These reduced caps will remain subject to regular review throughout the remainder of 2021.

During the meeting, the National Cabinet also agreed, in-principle, to a four phase national plan to navigate Australia’s response to COVID-19. Each phase is triggered by the achievement of a vaccination threshold, and the potential impact on international travel is highlighted below.

1. Current phase – vaccinate, prepare and pilot

For international travel, this phase includes:

  • Temporarily reducing commercial inbound passenger arrivals to all major ports by 50 per cent from current caps by 14 July to reduce the pressure on quarantine facilities;
  • Trialling the introduction of alternative quarantine options, including home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers;
  • Expanding commercial trials for limited entry of student and economic visa holders;
  • Establishing digital vaccination authentication at international borders.

2. Post vaccination phase – for international travel, this phase may include:

  • Restoring inbound passengers caps at previous levels for unvaccinated returning travellers and larger caps for vaccinated returning travellers;
  • Allowing capped entry of student and economic visa holders subject to quarantine arrangements and availability.

3. Consolidation phase – for international travel, this phase may include:

  • Abolishing caps on returning vaccinated travellers;
  • Allowing increased capped entry of student, economic, and humanitarian visa holders;
  • Lifting all restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated persons; and
  • Extending travel bubble for unrestricted travel to new candidate countries (Singapore, Pacific).

4. Final phase – for international travel, this phase may include:

  • Allowing uncapped inbound arrivals for all vaccinated persons, without quarantine; and
  • Allowing uncapped arrivals of non-vaccinated travellers subject to pre-flight and on arrival testing.
  • Allowing Australian citizens to return to Australia is the government’s current priority, and therefore applications for inbound travel exemptions may become more difficult given the reduced number of permitted international arrivals. 

22 June 2021
The Australian Minister for Immigration announced the addition of the following new occupations to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL):

Accountant (General) (221111)
Accountant (Taxation) (221113)
Accountant (Management) (221112)
External Auditor (221213)
Internal Auditor (221214)
Electrical Engineer (233311)
Civil Engineer (233211)
Structural Engineer (233214)
Geotechnical Engineer (233212)
Transport Engineer (233215)
Mining Engineer (233611)
Petroleum Engineer (233612)
Surveyor (232212)
Cartographer (232213)
Other Spatial Scientist (232214)
Medical Laboratory Scientist (234611)
Orthotist / Prosthetist (251912)
Multimedia Specialist (261211)
Analyst Programmer (261311)
Software and Applications Programmers (261399)
ICT Security Specialist (262112)
Chef (351311)

These new occupations bring the PMSOL to 41 occupations in total. 482 visa applicants who are sponsored by Australian businesses in a PMSOL occupation can access priority processing and easier access to travel exemptions in order to enter and work in Australia. The existing skilled occupation lists (the STSOL and MLTSSL) remain active and 482 visa applications based on these lists will continue to be processed. However, 482 visa applications based on the PMSOL will be given priority. Visa holders on PMSOL occupations will continue to be subject to Australia’s quarantine requirements.

17 June 2021
The Australian Government announced Australia’s current border restrictions will be extended until 17 September 2021. Officially known as the human biosecurity emergency period under the Biosecurity Act 2015, the continuation of border restrictions means the Australian Government may take necessary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including travel restrictions to and from Australia unless a travel exemption is in place. 

7 April 2021
Quarantine Free Travel (QFT) commenced between New Zealand and Australia on the 18 April 2021 at 11:59pm. 

From this date, New Zealand employers who identify candidates they wish to employ who are in Australia, no longer need to go through the border exception and critical worker visa application process. As a New Zealand employer, anyone recruited from Australia may enter New Zealand (as long as they meet pre-travel criteria) without going through mandatory isolation and quarantine and by meeting pre-COVID-19 visa requirements.

In order to qualify for QFT to New Zealand a traveller must:

  • hold a valid New Zealand electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) (if eligible to travel visa waiver) and apply for a visa on arrival at the border,
  • apply for and hold a current visa before travel, or
  • if an Australian citizen, travel visa-waiver and apply for a resident visa on arrival at the border.

To travel to New Zealand on a quarantine-free flight, you must meet pre-travel criteria and also complete an online travel declaration before you travel. This declaration is being finalised and will be available from 14 April.

Similarly, travellers who have been in New Zealand for 14 days are permitted to travel by air to Australia quarantine-free, without applying for a travel exemption. An Australian Travel Declaration must be completed at least 72 hours before travel to Australia.

For Australian and New Zealand employers, the borders are now open for skills and talent from across the pond. Immigration New Zealand will accept visa applications from non-Australian citizens who are currently in Australia (and have been for at least 14 days) to apply for visas from offshore. These travellers/applicants must be in Australia when they apply and must travel to New Zealand from a QFT area. In Australia, the Department of Home Affairs also accepts visa applications from applicants located offshore.

17 February 2021
Global Talent Independent Visa Update

The Australian Government continues to expand its Global Talent visa program and is now accepting candidates from the following updated list of target sectors:

  • Resources (e.g. critical minerals)
  • Agri-food and AgTech
  • Energy
  • Health industries
  • Defence, advanced manufacturing and space
  • Circular economy
  • DigiTech
  • Infrastructure and tourism
  • Financial services and FinTech
  • Education

Candidates in these fields must demonstrate they can attract a high income or are high calibre PhD graduates.

Temporary concessions for certain offshore visa categories
Some temporary concessions have been announced for some visa categories which usually require the applicant to be outside of Australia at the time of visa grant. The following visa categories can be granted to applicants who are in Australia and are unable to leave due to COVID-19 travel restrictions from these dates:

From 27 February 2021
Partner (subclass 309) visas
Prospective Marriage (subclass 300) visas
Child (subclass 101) visas
Adoption (subclass 102) visas
Dependent Child (subclass 445) visas

From 24 March 2021
Contributory Parent (subclass 173) visas
Contributory Parent (subclass 143) visas
Parent (subclass 103) visas
Update as at 5 February 2021

1 February 2021
Pre-travel COVID-19 and international passenger caps

Updated border rules have been introduced since the new year in response to recent COVID-19 clusters in Australia as well as COVID-19 variant strains overseas.

Before travelling to Australia, all individuals (including Australian citizens) must now:

  • Provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to departure; and
  • Complete an Australian Travel Declaration.
  • International passenger caps to Australia have also been reduced until 15 February.

Exemptions to travel restrictions are still required in most cases to depart and arrive in Australia. Mandatory quarantine for 14 days is also still required upon arrival in Australia (please see our update from 17 July for applicable quarantine fees).

“Green zone” flights between New Zealand and Australia have now been reinstated following three confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Zealand. From 31 January, additional conditions apply to travellers arriving in Australia green zone flights, including COVID-19 testing for impacted passengers. These conditions will remain in place until 10 February 2021.

Concessions for parent visas

The Minister for Immigration has announced it will allow certain parent visa applicants to be onshore (i.e. in Australia) at the time their visa is granted due to COVID-19. This concession should take effect sometime in early 2021, and will apply to the following parent visa subclasses:

  • Parent (subclass 103) visa
  • Contributory Parent (subclass 173) visa
  • Contributory Parent (subclass 143) visa

11 December 2020
Australian travel declaration

The Australian Government has introduced an online travel declaration that needs to be completed by all travellers entering Australia (this includes Australian citizens and those who are exempt from travel restrictions). The Australia Travel Declaration is separate to the Australian Border Force (ABF) travel exemption approval.

The purpose of the declaration is to collect travellers’ contact details, flight details, quarantine requirements and health status. This information helps the Australian Government determine quarantine arrangements (if required) and allows relevant health departments to contact the traveller if there is a positive test for COVID-19. Travellers must complete and submit the travel declaration online at least 72 hours prior to arrival in Australia.

A link to the travel declaration can be found here.

30 November 2020
New occupation added to the PMSOL

Social Worker (ANZSCO 272511) is the newest occupation added to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL). This addition to the PMSOL was based on advice from the National Skills Commission (NSC). The NSC has recently been created to advise the Australian government on the national labour market, workforce changes and current and emerging skills needs, including the composition of the skilled occupation lists which underpin Australia’s skilled migration program.

Businesses which sponsor foreign workers to a PMSOL occupation are able to access priority visa processing. In addition, the visa applicant themselves can more easily access travel exemptions in order to enter Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst the existing skilled occupation lists (the STSOL and MLTSSL) remain active, PMSOL applications will be given priority.

Concession for certain family visa applicants

The Department of Home Affairs has announced it will allow certain family visa applicants to be onshore (i.e. in Australia) at the time their visa is granted. The specific visa types in question normally require applicants to be outside of Australia at the time of visa approval. However a temporary concession will be made for applicants who are currently in Australia and are not able to travel overseas for visa grant due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This concession will be available from early 2021 and will apply to the following family visa subclasses:

  • Partner (subclass 309) visa
  • Prospective marriage (subclass 300) visa
  • Child (subclass 101) visa
  • Adoption (subclass 102) visa
  • Dependent child (subclass 445) visa

Concessions for sponsored visa holders

Earlier this year, the Australian Government announced that concessions would be made available to sponsored visa holders impacted by the sudden COVID-19-related downturn. Some of these concessions have now been formalised, and we have summarised them below.

Impact of COVID-19-related reduced working hours or stand down on employer sponsored permanent residence under the Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS)

Many employers were forced to stand-down or reduce the hours of their staff (including visa holders) due to COVID-19. For the purposes of ENS under the temporary residence transition (TRT) stream, periods of work that are not full-time could not generally be counted towards the required employment period.

Under the COVID-19 concessions, periods of unpaid/reduced hours work or employment stand-down can now count towards the required employment period.

The period of unpaid/reduced hours work or stand-down must have occurred after 1 February 2020 as a result of COVID-19. This concession applies to ENS (TRT stream) applications lodged after 1 February 2020 and still pending.

Impact on ENS applicants relying on age exemptions during COVID-19

For ENS (TRT stream) applicants who are over the age limit of 45 years, an age exemption exists if they have been considered a high income earner (the current high income threshold is $153,600 per annum).

If an individual was previously earning at the threshold, and their income was impacted by COVID-19, a concession now applies allowing them to access the age exemption in spite of their income reduction. A pro-rata income threshold for the period earnings were impacted by COVID-19 may apply.

The period of income reduction must have occurred after 1 February 2020 as a result of COVID-19. This concession applies to ENS (TRT stream) applications lodged after 1 February 2020 and still pending.

Labour Market Testing (LMT) for ENS

The Department of Home Affairs has provided some clarity around its expectation for Labour Market Testing (LMT) in relation to ENS applications. Given the economic disruption caused by COVID-19, the Government is keen to ensure Australian workers are prioritised for jobs and will therefore scrutinise ENS applications closely. Factors that will be taken into account to show a genuine need for an ENS application include:

  • Whether the sponsor tried to source Australian workers for the position (advertising the job vacancy on the Government’s JobActive website or other national advertisements is particularly persuasive, although no minimum advertising period is specified)
  • Whether the application clearly establishes a genuine need to have a foreign national in a permanent role within the business
  • Demonstrating a genuine need is now more crucial than ever for ENS applications.

17 July 2020

Quarantine fees

NSW – The NSW Government will begin charging international travellers for their hotel quarantine accommodation from Saturday 18 July 2020. Travellers will be charged $3000 for one adult. Additional adults will be charged at $1000 each, additional children at $500 each and no charge for children under 3 years. Therefore a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) will be charged $5000.

Quarantine fees include hotel room costs and meals. Travellers will receive an invoice at the end of the 14 day quarantine period for fees, and will be required to pay the NSW Government within 30 days.

Quarantine fees apply to all international travellers entering NSW including Australian citizens and permanent residents. Please note quarantine fees are not retrospective. Travellers in transit through Sydney to another state or territory will not be charged a fee if transit is less than 24 hours. A pro-rata fee will be charged for stays greater than 24 hours.

Queensland – The Queensland government is charging travellers for mandatory quarantine. The fees are $2800 for one adult, $3710 for two adults and $4620 for 2 adults and 2 children. Quarantine fees include hotel room costs and meals. Travellers will receive an invoice at the end of the 14 day quarantine period for fees, and will be required to pay the Queensland Government within 30 days.

Northern Territory – from 17 July, anyone arriving into the Northern Territory from a COVID-19 hotspot must complete 14 days of mandatory quarantine at their own cost. The cost per person is $2500. Declared hotspots currently include large areas of Victoria and Sydney. Exemption from quarantine can be requested in certain circumstances (e.g. specialist services for industry or business or emergency service workers). Exemptions are considered invalid if you are travelling from an identified COVID-19 hotspot.

Western Australia – from 17 July, international arrivals to WA are required to pay for their 14 days of mandatory quarantine. The fees are $2520 for one adult, $3360 for two adults and $5040 for a family of four.

South Australia – from 18 July, international arrivals to SA are required to pay for their 14 days of mandatory quarantine. Travellers will be charged $3000 for one adult. Additional adults will be charged at $1000 each, additional children at $500 each and no charge for children under 3 years. Therefore a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) will be charged $5000.

Victoria – The following maximum fees will be charged to residents in hotel quarantine: A$3000 for one adult, A$1000 for each additional adult in the same room or apartment, A$500 for each child aged between three and 18 years. No fee is charged for children aged under three years.

These are challenging times, and we are here to support you in any way we can. Please contact VISA LOUNGE Australia’s immigration team if you need help or advice.