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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Australian Government introduced a national travel ban from 20 March 2020. This ban significantly limited migration and travel into Australia. While some individuals qualify for entry, the list of who qualifies is restricted. If you an employer seeking to bring an employee into the country, you may be able to request a travel exemption. 

This article outlines:

  • who qualifies for entry into Australia;
  • how to apply for a travel exemption for an employee; and
  • the new Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL)

Who Qualifies For Entry Into Australia?

The travel ban prohibited foreign nationals from travelling into Australia unless they are an individual described below. Such individuals are automatically exempt and can enter the country, provided they demonstrate proof of their circumstances.

These include:

  • an Australian citizen;
  • a permanent resident of Australia;
  • an immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident;
  • a New Zealand citizen usually resident in Australia and their immediate family members;
  • a diplomat accredited to Australia (holding a subclass 995 visa);
  • a traveller transiting in Australia for 72 hours or less;
  • airline crew;
  • a maritime crew including marine pilots;
  • people recruited under the Government approved Seasonal Worker Program or Pacific Labour Scheme; and
  • holders of a Business Innovation and Investment (subclass 188) visa. 

Are Travel Exemptions Permitted?

In some instances, the Australian Government permits an exemption from the travel ban. This exemption may apply if your sponsored employee or foreign worker can establish that they have a critical skill, or can provide services in critical sectors in Australia.

To apply for the exemption, your sponsored employee or foreign worker must be able to demonstrate that they:

  • are travelling at the invitation of the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response;
  • are providing critical or specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuations and delivering critical medical supplies;
  • has critical skills to maintain the supply of essential goods and services (such as in medical technology, critical infrastructure, telecommunications, engineering and mining, supply chain logistics, aged care, agriculture, primary industry, food production, and the maritime industry);
  • deliver services in sectors critical to Australia’s economic recovery (such as financial technology, large scale manufacturing, film, media and television production and emerging technology), where no Australian worker is available;
  • are providing critical skills in religious or theology fields;
  • are sponsored to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL); or
  • whose entry would otherwise be in Australia’s national interest, supported by the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority.

As an employer, you can either request a travel exemption on behalf of your sponsored employee or foreign worker, or provide supporting documentation for your employee’s individual travel exemption request. All travel exemption requests must be submitted to the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force. 

How Do You Establish Critical Skills?

Most sponsored employees and foreign workers may fall into either the below categories. They:

  • have critical skills to maintain the supply of essential goods and services (such as in medical technology, critical infrastructure, telecommunications, engineering and mining, supply chain logistics, aged care, agriculture, primary industry, food production, and the maritime industry); or
  • deliver services in sectors critical to Australia’s economic recovery (such as financial technology, large scale manufacturing, film, media and television production and emerging technology), where no Australian worker is available;

You must provide extensive evidence to satisfy the above categories. 

For example, if the sponsored employee or foreign worker has critical skills to maintain the supply of essential goods and services, then you may want to provide: 

  • a copy of their work visa;
  • evidence of their critical skills;
  • what critical industry/sectors they will lend their skills to;
  • how their skills will benefit that industry/sector; and
  • evidence of the lack of such skills in Australia and attempts by the Australian employer to recruit a suitably qualified Australian worker. 

It is important to explain the nexus between your sponsored employee’s or foreign worker’s critical skills to your business (which may be a business in a critical sector in Australia) or to your clients (which may be business in critical sectors in Australia). 

My Sponsored Employee’s Occupation is On The PMSOL

On 2 September 2020, the Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge introduced the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) which identifies 17 key occupations in targeted sectors of health care, construction and IT. The full announcement is available here

The 17 occupations (ANZSCO code) are:

 

  • Chief Executive or Managing Director (111111)
  • Construction Project Manager (133111)
  • Mechanical Engineer (233512)
  • General Practitioner (253111)
  • Resident Medical Officer (253112)
  • Psychiatrist (253411)
  • Medical Practitioner nec (253999)
  • Midwife (254111)
  • Registered Nurse (Aged Care) (254412)
  • Registered Nurse (Critical Care and Emergency) (254415)
  • Registered Nurse (Medical) (254418)
  • Registered Nurse (Mental Health) (254422)
  • Registered Nurse (Perioperative) (254423)
  • Registered Nurses nec (254499)
  • Developer Programmer (261312)
  • Software Engineer (261313)
  • Maintenance Planner (312911)

The National Skills Commission helped to design the PMSOL. It addresses two key needs:

  1. to allow sponsored skilled workers to return to Australia to fill urgent skills needs in critical sectors; and
  2. to create Australian jobs and rebuild Australia’s economy during and post COVID-19. 

This is positive news for Australian businesses who employ individuals in the above occupations. It offers more confidence and certainty to Australian employers operating in the construction, health and IT sectors. 

Priority Processing For Some Nominations

Furthermore, nominations for PMSOL-listed occupations, and visa applications submitted for sponsored workers under a subclass 482, 494, 186 and 187, will be priority processed. 

This is very important, as processing times for employer-sponsored visas have extended dramatically. In many instances, employers and applicants have been waiting for at least three to four months for a decision on their applications. 

However, employer-sponsored visas submitted for an occupation on the PMSOL will receive a decision within a matter of weeks (if not days). The applicant (sponsored employee) can be offshore or onshore.

If the applicant is offshore, employers can submit a travel exemption request on their behalf to enter Australia. This is because PMSOL-listed occupations are considered critical skills. Travel exemption requests are usually finalised within a matter of days. 

This has brought a great deal of relief to Australian businesses and employers, who (due to the nature of their business) require skills and experience that are not readily available across the Australian labour market. 

Key Takeaways

It is important to note that a travel exemption request based on your sponsored employee’s or foreign worker’s critical skills is not a straightforward process. The onus is on the Australian employer or the individual, requesting a travel exemption, to demonstrate that they meet the relevant travel exemption criteria. 

If you are uncertain of the process, or what evidence is needed to establish your employee’s critical skills, LegalVision’s experienced immigration lawyers can assist you. Call 1300 544 755 or complete the form on this page.

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