Economic lifeline: temporary changes to student visa conditions

February 16, 2022
FCB Smart Visa

Staff shortages are making headlines across the country as high case numbers force many into isolation. This isn’t just an issue in critical industries such as healthcare, either: the Australian Retail Association reports that 76 per cent of retailers had staff isolating in mid-January, and nearly 20 per cent had to temporarily close stores.

To support businesses and keep them open, the Federal Government has announced a temporary relaxation of visa conditions for student visa holders.

In this article, I explain what these changes are and what it means for industries facing critical labour shortages.

What’s changed?

Normally, students holding a subclass 500 visa cannot work more than 40 hours over a 14-day period while their course is in session or be employed and working before their course starts. The temporary removal of these restrictions poses a great opportunity for businesses and international students alike. Businesses can now hire and utilise international students for additional hours during the week, and students can gain more experience and increase their income.

The relaxing of these restrictions extend to both existing and new student visa holders, as well as secondary applicants e.g., spouses and dependent children. These changes are already in place, allowing international students to work more than 40 hours per fortnight, with no current limit on their hours of work and commence employment before their course has started.

Initially, these relaxations were only in place for critical industries but given the dire nature of staff shortages across all sectors, they’ve now been extended across the board. Additionally, students with offers for employment in critical sectors may be eligible to apply for a 408 Pandemic Visa in situations where they’ve finished their course and are within 90 days of their student visa expiring.

These relaxations are only temporary, with the Government set to review the changes in April 2022. Importantly, other visa conditions are still in place. Students must ensure they’re enrolled in a course and maintain satisfactory attendance and progress.

In addition, the six-month work limitation for Working Holiday Maker visa holders (subclasses 417 and 462) will be removed until the end of 2022, allowing these individuals to work for the same employer for longer than six months.

Steps for employers

While employers may have the green light to engage employees holding subclass 500 visas for additional hours than they would otherwise be permitted to, they must keep Work Health and Safety (WHS) at the forefront. Excessive working hours can lead to mental and physical fatigue, and increase the risk of workplace injuries and employee burnout.

Study requirements under the subclass 500 visa are still in place and students must balance any additional hours they work with their course requirements. Employers should consider the individual circumstances of each student and be careful not to overburden them.

As this is only a temporary measure, employers must ensure they’re keeping up to date with visa requirements to ensure they’re compliant.

If you’ve got a question about these visa changes or any other workplace matter, please contact our migration experts at FCB.

This article was prepared by Zaynab Aly. Zaynab Aly is a Workplace Relations Consultant at HR Assured, FCB’s sister company. She has a particular interest in the retail industry and regularly provides advice on workplace matters to find solutions for clients.