3rd June, 2020

What employers need to know about temporary work visas

The current working environment is making it tough for employers of workers holding temporary work visas. Here’s what you can do.

By now we are pretty familiar with the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on businesses.

We know that tourism, hospitality, events and the arts industries are really suffering. There’s another subgroup of businesses that are currently dealing with extra challenges and uncertainty. These are businesses that employ staff who hold temporary work visas.

Who is impacted?

  • Businesses who employ staff holding temporary work visas including casual, part time and full time staff
  • Business owners who hold a temporary work visa
  • Temporary work visa holders who are laid off, including but not limited to skilled visa holders, students, contractors, working holiday visa holders

So what are the issues?

Two key issues are:

  1. Economic downturn affecting businesses
  2. Border closures and lockdown laws preventing workers from returning home

These issues impact directly on the business’s ability to meet obligations for sponsorship, visa requirements and the welfare of their staff.

Here are the main difficulties:

Keeping staff on

Businesses just may not be able to keep staff and keep their business running.

Depending on the visa the staff member holds they may not be able to work for another employer, and for others, they need to find work within 60 days for their visa to remain valid.

Some employers are choosing to offer leave without pay or reducing hours to keep the worker as long as possible. JobKeeper and JobSeeker don’t apply for people holding temporary work visas.

For business owners who employ permanent residents or Australian citizens, JobKeeper may apply if their business meets eligibility criteria.

Meeting sponsorship obligations

If you’re sponsoring an overseas worker or workers it might be difficult to continue to pay the wage agreed to or you may need to lay off staff for the business to survive.

There are options to offer leave without pay, reduce hours or lay them off. But you need to make sure which visa the worker is on which governs your actions. By not applying the correct process, this could lead to sanctions that might impact your ability in the future to sponsor overseas workers.

For example, it is the responsibility of the employer to pay for return airfares, within reason, for employees and their family if they are returning to their country of origin if they cease employment when requested.

Meeting business owner temporary work visa obligations

If business revenue decreases due to COVID-19 it may mean you are unable to meet minimum revenue requirements and the ability to hire workers, which will impact your eligibility to apply for permanent residency (PR) in the future.

There is currently no exemptions in place if you cannot fulfil the criteria after starting a business to then apply for PR later down the track.

Staff unable to return home

Certain countries have locked their borders making it difficult for people to return or because they are unable to get direct flights — that’s if there are any flights available! The cost of the flights may be prohibitive, if they have to self-fund, particularly if they have to factor in 14 day isolation during stopovers. For other visa holders they may have family or study commitments which require them to stay.

Seek guidance on travel bans and exemptions if you need to travel by going to the relevant national government website.

So it’s understandable why this is a pretty stressful time for all involved.

Not meeting obligations may impact on the ability to continue sponsoring overseas workers which for some sectors has been a vital source of attracting talent.

For business owners trying to obtain permanent residency, this may now be jeopardised or severely delayed.

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Suggested courses of action

Some suggested strategies by Phillip Mew, a Director of Mew Migration, and a professional migration consultant* are:

  • Work hard on keeping the business running – it is vital you can demonstrate ways to keep the business running and operating during these times if it is possible. Consider increasing funding and investment into the business.
  • Trade through this situation – after all this situation is temporary and usually a business visa is granted for 4 years. If you don’t meet the requirements, you can also extend for a further term.
  • Work on managing your cash flow and get help from your bank and accountant – temporary visa holders can access up to $10,000 from their superannuation this financial year.
  • Ask workers to take leave without pay under written permission and agreement from both parties – make sure you know which visa your workers are on.
  • Notify the Department within 28 days if you do have to lay off workers.

*Phillip Mew is Australia-based and registered with the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARN 1793059).