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Australia scraps pandemic visa for international students

Melbourne, Sep 1 (IANS) The Australian government has announced the closure of the Pandemic Event visa beginning February 2024 — a move that could see a sizable number of international students and temporary workers scrambling for other options to remain in the country.

Also known as Subclass 408, the visa was introduced during the height of the pandemic in 2020 to plug labour shortages and support international students who were unable to leave the country.

“From February 2024, the visa will be closed to all applicants. This will provide certainty to our visa system now that the circumstances that drove the operation of the visa no longer exist,” Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles jointly announced on Thursday.

As a transitional measure to promote visa integrity, it was announced that beginning September 2, 2023, the Pandemic Event visa will only be open to applications from existing holders.

From Saturday onwards, new applications will receive a six month visa and an application charge of AUD405 will also be introduced to ensure that the visa is only used by those who have a “genuine need to remain and contribute to Australia”.

As per these new changes, those with a valid Pandemic Event visa will remain lawful until their current visa expires.

Those without any options for other visa applications are expected to depart Australia when their visa expires.

“The Pandemic Event visa was an important part of Australia’s visa system during the pandemic. Many people on temporary visas helped Australia during this period. We’re providing an opportunity for people who hold a Pandemic Event visa to explore another visa option, or plan to leave Australia,” Giles said.

The move comes after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese Government recently ended a series of Covid-era measures, including unlimited work hours for international students and work exemptions for Working Holiday visa holders.

The Pandemic Event visa was initially introduced to provide relief for foreign students in Australia who were unable to leave the country during Covid-related border closures.

It allowed students to live in the country for an additional 12 months if their visas expired, and travel to or from Australia multiple times during a stay.

Arguing that the visa was being misused, immigration and education experts called for its abolition with immediate effect as it allowed people to work unlimited hours for 12 months.

Almost 60,000 international students and temporary workers were using the visa to extend their stay in Australia, even post pandemic, according to recent figures released by the Department of Home Affairs.

The department issued 65,859 pandemic visas from June 2022 to March 2023.

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