Almost all aspects of business changed in 2020 due to the pandemic, including workforce planning, immigration, and international recruitment. At first, companies had to react quickly to adapt to the changing circumstances. Now, we have more clarity on immigration, mobility, and relevant government regulations, which means businesses can proactively develop a strategy that’s effective in this altered environment.
Here’s what business owners need to know about mobility and immigration in 2021:
- The Australian government is taking a conservative approach to risk
At the federal level, the Australian government has taken a highly conservative approach in responding to this pandemic. Borders shut down shortly after COVID-19 became an international concern, and they’ve remained closed ever since. Many state and territory governments have followed suit implementing border restrictions to prevent viral spread through domestic travel.
These closures will likely remain in effect until Australians have access to the vaccine. At this point, the timeline for the vaccine rollout is unclear, so it’s not possible to say when travel restrictions will be relaxed.
- Travel is allowed in certain instances with specific precautions
Once it became clear that the pandemic could persist for months, the government created a framework to allow travellers from critical sectors like healthcare, infrastructure, and technology to come to the country. This shows that whilst the government is being cautious, it is willing to consider the circumstances and benefit against the risks to Australia of permitting travel.
However, strict precautions remain in place. As of January 2021, all inbound and transiting passengers have to provide negative COVID test results within 72 hours of entering the country and must quarantine for 14 days if they’re staying. Quarantine exemptions are possible for some critical workers.
The availability of the vaccine will likely have a significant impact on Australia’s travel sector and the reopening of borders. In the future, travellers may need to provide evidence that they’ve been vaccinated before boarding an inbound flight. As the vaccine becomes widely available, we expect mobility will increase.
- Businesses can still recruit internationally
Many Australian and global companies have stayed their international recruiting efforts because they think it’s not possible – but that’s not the case. The travel exemption process allows business travel where it is necessary to maintain the support of goods or services or assists the critical sectors of our economy. Some visas are still being processed during the pandemic, mostly permanent visas and temporary visas for workers with critical skills who have been approved for travel exemptions.
Exemptions & examples
The critical skills list includes medical technology, critical infrastructure, telecommunications, engineering and mining, supply chain logistics, aged care, agriculture, primary industry, food production, and the maritime industry. Also, there are sectors that are considered critical for Australia’s economic recovery, such as financial technology, large-scale manufacturing, film, media and television production, and emerging technology. People with skills in these areas are eligible for travel exemptions.
There’s also the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL), which includes 18 occupations that are eligible for travel exemptions during the pandemic. Workers in these fields can often obtain exemptions quickly since their help is needed for Australia’s COVID-19 recovery. The full PMSOL list can be found here.
It’s wise to review the guidelines to see if your business qualifies. If you’re recruiting employees who fit into travel exempt categories, they will need to apply for a visa along with an exemption before coming to the country. If you’re uncertain about whether a prospective employee is eligible, contact TMA for a detailed assessment.
It’s essential to support the well-being of foreign employees
In this uncertain time, it’s critical to support employees from other countries. Many of them are separated from their families and don’t know when they’ll be able to see them again. Your immigration specialist may be able to give advice on how these employees can connect or reunite with their families, which would be an immense relief and helpful. Even the small gesture of connecting an employee with an immigration specialist to provide guidance on a personal or professional question can help them feel valued and supported.
Timelines have changed
COVID-19 has dramatically slowed many aspects of business, including visa application processing and migration overall. It may take longer to bring employees to Australia from foreign countries because of backlogs with the Department as well as delays in scheduling English tests, medical appointments, and criminal background checks. Government caps on international arrivals can affect timelines for bringing people to Australia, too.
Mobility and immigration in 2021 tip: To make the process simpler for yourself and prospective workers, plan ahead as much as possible and have prospective employees start their visa application process immediately.
How TMA can help
TMA is constantly monitoring changes in immigration and making sure that clients have up-to-date information. We’re helping new and existing clients create strategic workforce plans for 2021 and beyond. With our clear understanding of the current visa framework, we are actively guiding our clients through the process of getting visas and travel exemptions and offering assistance to employees.
If you’d like to schedule a strategic planning session with one of TMA’s immigration experts regarding mobility and immigration in 2021, contact us today.