The closure of Australia’s Pandemic Event visa
The end of the subclass 408 visa
The Government of Australia has announced that it is closing the Temporary Activity visa (subclass 408) – referred to as the Pandemic Event visa. The Pandemic Event visa was “introduced in April 2020 to allow temporary migrants, including international students, to stay in Australia while COVID-19 travel restrictions were in place,” according to Study Australia. Now that Australia’s borders are open and this visa is no longer required, the announcement gives current visa holders time to prepare and make plans accordingly.
As of 2 September 2023, a new measure has taken effect where applications for the Pandemic Event visa are only open to existing visa holders. This means that Pandemic Event visa holders will be able to apply for a subsequent Pandemic Event visa after 2 September 2023, providing leeway for preparations and adjustments, until the visa is completely closed for everyone in February 2024.
Why is the visa being closed?
Minister for Home Affairs Hon Clare O’Neil MP and Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Hon Andrew Giles MP have stated in a joint media release that closing the visa “will provide certainty to our visa system now that the circumstances that drove the operation of the visa no longer exist.”
The PIE News further shares Minister Andrew Giles’s statements: “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[.] …. We’ve brought wait times down, and we’re working to make sure our migration system is working again for all Australians[.]”
Additionally, ICEF Monitor states that the Pandemic Event visa has been regarded to contain a “loophole” in the immigration policy, in that it allowed “education providers to shift international students who have been in Australia for less than six months from genuine study to an arrangement designed to facilitate access to work in Australia.” ICEF Monitor explains that the loophole was “related to students being able to access “concurrent COEs” (Confirmations of Enrolments) for programmes in two sectors (higher education and vocational training [VET]).” In effect, students were able to shift into full-time employment instead of completing their studies, the original intent of their being in Australia.
Stakeholders react to the closure
Speaking on behalf of his association at a conference, English Australia CEO Brett Blacker said that they are delighted by the announcement of the ceasing of the COVID-19 408 activity visa. He shared that they have “lobbied for the cessation of this visa extensively …. We know this has had an impact on the international education sector, so the closing of the visa at this point is well received.”
Phil Honeywood, CEO of International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), told The PIE News that the 408 visa “[has] been allowed to continue for too long and we’ve now got over 100,000 holders of these visa types. At least 30% of those are estimated to be former international students who’ve jumped on to work full time[.] And we are really keen that Australia’s reputation as a quality international education destination is being [maintained].”
Sharing similar sentiments, Troy Williams, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) Chief Executive says that “[a] growing number of international students have been opting not to complete their studies by accessing the pandemic event visa so they they could take up full-time work,” adding that “[t]his isn’t the best outcome for students, as they came to Australia to undertake studies and we want the visa framework to support students in this.”
What does this mean for the sector moving forward?
The closure of the Pandemic Event visa is ultimately received as good news for Australia, most especially for the international education and immigration sectors. The end of the visa means minimising loopholes of this nature, in order to bring forth better outcomes for society and the nation at large.
Current holders of the visa, as well as those interested in applying for it are now encouraged to explore more viable options available to them, while being given ample time to do so. Individuals may start sorting out their requirements to apply for a different kind of visa or make arrangements to depart the country as needed.