Australia Cancels COVID-19 Visa for International Students

Australia Cancels COVID-19 Visa for International Students
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Australia has announced the discontinuation of the Pandemic Event visa, known as Subclass 408, starting from February 2024. This decision may pose challenges for international students and temporary workers seeking to maintain their status in the country. The visa was initially introduced in 2020 during the height of the pandemic to address labor shortages and provide support to international students who were stranded in Australia due to travel restrictions.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles jointly declared that “beginning February 2024, the visa will no longer be open to new applicants. This decision has been made to provide clarity to our visa system now that the circumstances necessitating this visa no longer exist.”

To ensure the integrity of the visa program, a transitional measure has been introduced. Starting on September 2, 2023, the Pandemic Event visa will only accept applications from existing visa holders. New applications submitted after this date will be granted a six-month visa and will incur an application fee of AUD405. This fee is intended to ensure that the visa is utilized by individuals with a genuine need to remain in and contribute to Australia.

Under the new regulations, individuals holding a valid Pandemic Event visa will be allowed to remain in the country legally until their current visa expires. Those without alternative visa options are expected to depart Australia upon the expiration of their visa.

Minister Giles explained, “The Pandemic Event visa played a crucial role in Australia’s visa system during the pandemic. Many individuals on temporary visas made significant contributions to Australia during this challenging period. We are providing an opportunity for current Pandemic Event visa holders to explore alternative visa options or make plans to depart Australia.”

This decision follows the recent termination of various Covid-era measures by the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese Government, including unrestricted work hours for international students and work exemptions for Working Holiday visa holders.

Originally, the Pandemic Event visa was introduced to offer relief to foreign students in Australia who were unable to leave the country during Covid-related border closures. It allowed students to extend their stay in Australia for an additional 12 months after their visas expired and permitted multiple trips to and from Australia during their stay.

Critics argued that the visa was being misused, primarily due to its provision of unrestricted work hours for a year. Immigration and education experts advocated for its immediate abolition. Recent figures from the Department of Home Affairs indicate that nearly 60,000 international students and temporary workers utilized the visa to extend their stay in Australia, even after the pandemic. The department issued 65,859 pandemic visas from June 2022 to March 2023.