An Australian Working Holiday during a Pandemic?

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Backpackers have helped Australia greatly in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many who found themselves in Australia when the crisis first emerged in February, have been working in critical roles such as nursing and care roles, agriculture, and retail – in particular supermarket re-stocking.  Others have found their plans of lying on the beach and spending the evenings in hotels, to be completely thwarted.  Nobody anticipated a lockdown!

Many Working Holiday Visa makers are now wondering what lies ahead for them, and their visa may be running out.

We’ll take a look at a few issues for Working Holiday makers, and answer some common questions.

I want to apply for a Working Holiday Visa.  Is that possible right now?

At the moment, Australia has incoming travel bans due to the COVID pandemic.  Although you might be able to lodge an application for a Working Holiday Visa, it’s unlikely to be granted while travel bans remain in place.  Even if it were granted, you would need to somehow obtain an exemption from the Commissioner of Border Force to be able to enter the country.

I’m in Australia, and my Working Holiday Visa will expire soon, but I can’t travel back to my home country. 

There are some visas in place to allow temporary residents to remain.  One, is the so-called ‘COVID Visa’ – the Subclass 408 – Australian Government Endorsed Event visa.  This is a free visa, and can be granted where there are no other visa options.  If you have a job in a critical sector, you may obtain work rights on your 408 – otherwise it has a No Work condition.  This visa is commonly used by Working Holiday Visa makers, as they are precluded from applying for a Visitor Visa if they have already spent 12 months in Australia.

If, on a Working Holiday Visa, you have not spent 12 months or more in Australia, then a Visitor Visa (Subclass 600) could be possible.  This one does come at a cost, and would normally have a no work condition.  But it would allow you to remain longer.  Sometimes a visitor visa would be granted only up to the time after which you would exceed 12 months in Australia.  For example, if on a Working Holiday Visa you have been in Australia for 8 months, you may be granted a visitor visa for 4 months.

You could be lucky enough to be able to apply for a different visa – such as a partner visa, or an employer sponsored visa.  These are still possible, and if lodged onshore you would receive a bridging visa, allowing you to remain here lawfully.

If you happen to overstay your Working Holiday Visa for a significant period of time, your only option may be a Bridging Visa E.  This is not the most desirable option, as it can invoke re-entry bans into Australia.  To obtain a Bridging Visa E you will need to show why it is not possible for you to travel back to your home country at this time.  Work rights may be granted but are not automatic.

I’m on my second working holiday visa – will I qualify for a third?

The new third year Working Holiday pathway came into effect for certain passport holders last July – and means that if, on the second visa, you undertake 6 months of specified work in a regional area, you may qualify for a third year Working Holiday visa.  On the third visa there is no need for any regional work, but you still have the restriction of 6 months with one employer.  Of course, you still need to be under the qualifying age to apply.

If you do qualify, this could be a tremendous way of extending your stay, and hopefully have a proper holiday at some point!

My Working Holiday Visa was granted, but I can’t enter Australia.

Your Working Holiday visa was granted prior to March, but you have not had the opportunity to enter Australia due to travel bans.  Does this mean your Working Holiday opportunity is lost forever?  Not necessarily!

Once a Working Holiday Visa is granted, it is valid for entry for 12 months from date of grant.  And, from the time you enter Australia, you can remain for 12 months.  So if your Working Holiday Visa was granted in, say, February 2020, if the travel bans are relaxed before February 2021, you can simply enter before the travel end date and start your 12 month visa.

If it will expire before travel bans lift, provided you have not hit the cut-off age for the Working Holiday Visa (31 for most passports, 35 for Ireland, France and Canada), you can simply re-apply for another Working Holiday Visa if your first one expired and was never activated (you don’t get a refund on the first one unfortunately – you’ll have to cough up the visa application charge again).

However, if you have activated the Working Holiday Visa – even if it was just a short trip to Australia to start, with a plan of coming back later – the time on the visa clock starts ticking after your first entry, whether you are in the country or not.  If specified regional work is not completed on a first Working Holiday Visa, it’s not possible to apply for another one.

Do you have questions about how we can help with a Working Holiday visa?  Simply contact us for information!

Leanne Stevens

CEO, Emergico // Registered Migration Agent (#1171279)