April 30, 2021

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on foreign recruitment. The international border restrictions have presented challenges to Australian businesses seeking to recruit overseas skilled workers to fill skill shortages and to achieve greater workforce mobility.  

With border restrictions set to remain in force until at least 2022, businesses should be aware of the ability to navigate these challenges through applying for travel ban exemptions designed for employees with critical skills needed for Australia’s economic recovery. 

IMPACT OF BORDER RESTRICTIONS  

Australia’s borders are currently closed to all persons who are not Australian citizens, permanent residents, resident New Zealand citizens, or immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents.  The borders are now open to those who fall within the Trans-Tasman travel bubble arrangements. 

All other persons can only enter Australia if they have been granted an exemption by the Australian Border Force Commissioner. 

The border restrictions continue to apply to many offshore visa applicants, making it more challenging for businesses to sponsor overseas talent to fill skill shortages, work on specific projects or assist in business expansion plans. It is important to note that these challenges can be overcome in some circumstances by applying exemptions available for: 

  • Foreign nationals with critical skills or working in critical industry sectors in Australia; and 
  • Foreign nationals sponsored by an employer to work in Australia on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL). 

EXEMPTION: CRITICAL SKILLS AND CRITICAL INDUSTRY SECTORS

The Department of Home Affairs has identified skills and sectors which are critical to Australia’s economic recovery following COVID-19. Foreign nationals with critical skills or working in critical sectors can apply for travel-ban exemptions, enabling them to travel to Australia to work for Australian businesses. Examples of critical skills and sectors include foreign nationals: 

  • Providing critical or specialist medical services
  • With critical skills required 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); and 
  • Delivering 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.

EXEMPTION: PRIORITY MIGRATION SKILLED OCCUPATION LIST (PMSOL) 

Based on advice from the National Skills Commission and consultation with Commonwealth departments, the Department has identified 18 occupations that fill critical skills needed to support Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19. 

Employer-sponsored nomination and visa applications with an occupation on the PMSOL will be given priority processing and offshore applicants will be able to apply for a travel-ban exemption. 

Examples of occupations on the PMSOL include: 

  • Chief Executive or Managing Director 
  • Building and engineering technicians 
  • Mechanical engineer 
  • Medical practitioners (doctors, psychiatrists, midwives, registered nurses)
  • Software developers and engineers

The list is temporary and priority occupations may change as Australia recovers from the pandemic. The Government and the National Skills Commission will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the Australian labour market and assess Australia’s skills needs as they evolve and new sources of data emerge. 

All other skilled occupation lists will remain active but the PMSOL occupations will take priority.

HOW WE CAN HELP 

The travel ban exemptions are discretionary and require businesses to provide evidence to support the need for a foreign worker in Australia. We can assist in providing advice to businesses as to whether a proposed foreign national is eligible for a travel ban exemption. We also have experience in preparing applications for travel-ban exemptions and can assist with this process.  

We can also advise more generally in relation to the visa pathways which are most likely to secure an efficient and effective migration outcome in the current climate, taking into account greater scrutiny of temporary work visas and extended processing times, and can assist in preparing applications.  

If you would like further information concerning the matters raised in this article or if you have any queries, please contact our Migration Team.