We appreciate that you may be making some difficult decisions regarding your workforce due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Having to stand down, lay off or reduce your employees’ working hours or salary may be necessary to ensure your business remains operational. But what are your obligations to employees who are in Australia on visas?

On 4 April 2020, the Federal Government announced its intention to implement specific concessions in relation to temporary visa holders (‘Proposed Arrangements for Temporary Visa Holders’). 

This article will outline your options and sponsorship obligations towards your foreign workers in light of this announcement. However, the government is still working on these arrangements and they are not yet final

Temporary Work Visas

If you sponsor foreign workers under the subclass 457 or 482 visas, you may be able to:

  • stand down a sponsored employee, without it affecting your sponsorship obligations and the employee’s visa work conditions (namely condition 8107 and 8607); and
  • reduce the work hours of a sponsored employee to allow them to work part-time. 

In addition, you can decide to temporarily lay-off sponsored employees or make them redundant. However, you need to notify the Department of Home Affairs of their change of circumstances if you do so. Notification must be done within 28 days of the sponsored worker’s last day of employment (by emailing sponsor.notifications@abf.gov.au). The sponsored employee then has 60 days to find a new employer. 

Another option is to place your sponsored employees on leave without pay for up to three months. Longer periods may be permitted under exceptional circumstances. 

International Students

In some circumstances, the Department of Home Affairs has relaxed the conditions for student visa holders. This applies to businesses that are supermarkets or aged care facilities. Usually, student visa holders can only work 40 hours per fortnight. However, under the special arrangements, they can work beyond the 40 hours per fortnight in these businesses. 

You will need to seek prior approval before they can access these special arrangements. Also, these measures only apply to existing workers in their existing roles. 

If your business does not operate in the supermarket or aged care industries, you can reduce the students’ working hours and wages. If this results in them struggling financially, they should to either:

  • return to their country; or 
  • origin or access their superannuation benefits. 

Working Holiday Visa Holders

If you have employees on working holiday visas, they can continue to work beyond the six-month work limitation if your business is in the following industries: 

  • heath;
  • aged and disability care;
  • agriculture and food processing; and
  • childcare.

They will also be eligible for a further visa to keep them working in these critical sectors if their current visa is due to expire in the next six months. More information can be obtained from the Home Affairs website

Seasonal Worker Program

If your business is approved under the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme (Subclass 403) you will be able to continue employing foreign workers for up to 12 months. However, you must ensure the pastoral care and accommodation needs of workers are met to minimise health risks to visa holders and the community. More information can be obtained from the Home Affairs website.


If my business is eligible for the JobKeeper payments, can I retain my foreign employees? 

The JobKeeper payments are only available to Australian employees. 

I am concerned about my foreign employees; they can’t access JobSeeker or JobKeeper and I’ve had to let them go. What can they do?

Temporary skilled visa holders (subclass 457 and 482), international students (subclass 500) and temporary graduate visa holders (Subclass 485) will be able to access their superannuation in amounts of up to $10,000. 

Key Takeaways

As an employer and business owner that employs foreign workers, there are some options available to you to maintain your current workforce and see your business through this challenging period. Many of these are still being finalised. 

Visit our COVID-19 Resource Hub For Business for information on how to manage the impact of COVID-19 on your business. If you need help in understanding the latest developments and your options for your employees, our experienced immigration lawyers can help. Just fill out the form on this page or call 1300 544 755.

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