Greens push to extend visas for people stuck overseas during pandemic

The legislation would automatically credit a temporary visa holder’s visa with the amount of time Australia’s international border was closed, or with the time they have lost due to the international border closure.

Greens Senator Nick McKim speaks during Question Time in the Senate.

Greens Senator Nick McKim speaks during Question Time in the Senate. Source: AAP

A proposed bill to extend visas for people stuck overseas due to the pandemic has been introduced to the Senate.

The legislation would automatically credit a temporary visa holder’s visa with the amount of time Australia’s international border was closed, or with the time they have lost due to the international border closure. 

Greens immigration spokesperson Nick McKim formally introduced the bill to the upper house on Wednesday afternoon.

“Tens of thousands of temporary visa holders, including people with established homes, jobs and in some cases partners in Australia, were overseas when Australia’s international borders closed due to Covid-19,” he said.

“Many more had spent thousands of dollars on their visas, had packed up their homes, quit their jobs and were about to move to Australia when the borders closed.

“Despite their best efforts to return, many have been left languishing overseas watching their visas run down and expire through no fault of their own.” 

The proposed bill would amend the Migration Act to make allowances for the holders of temporary visas who have been affected by COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

Since Australia shut its international borders in March last year, migration has plunged into negative levels for the first time since World War II. 

In response to questions about the bill, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told SBS News last month "the government continues working methodically to address a range of immigration challenges during the pandemic."

"This includes taking account of developing impacts on temporary and offshore visa holders," they said.

"The government continues to consider pandemic related concessions and will make further announcements when and as necessary."

Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Source: AAP

The bill’s introduction comes as calls grow for a return to international travel as soon as possible from migrant families with connections overseas as well as the business community.

Under the national reopening plan, the federal government has outlined a gradual resumption of international travel once key vaccination thresholds of 70 and 80 per cent are reached. 

Mr Hawke on Wednesday said Australian citizens and permanent residents would be prioritised to return to Australia, before opening up to skilled migrants, international students and tourists.

“We believe we can bounce back quickly on this - we believe that skilled migration will come back very quickly,” he told reporters.

“Australia is a very attractive destination and the government will keep making announcements to ensure that people are incentivised to come back.”

The government's Intergenerational Report suggested net overseas migration is forecast to reach levels of 235,000 people per year by 2024-25.

This follows an expected 97,000 people forecast to have left Australia in 2020-21 and 77,000 predicted to leave in 2021-22. 

Labor’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Kristina Keneally said considerations around the future of the migration program should not just be about the size.

“It is the composition and the size,” she told reporters.

“We need a migration [program] that restores the links between temporary and permanency and opens up more pathways to [permanent settlement].”


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Published 20 October 2021 at 7:04pm
By Tom Stayner
Source: SBS News