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COVID Visa abolished: Australia ends 408 visa

The visa, officially known as the 408 visa, had allowed its holders to work unlimited hours for a duration of 12 months.

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In a significant move to curb exploitation and fraudulent practices in the immigration system, Immigration Minister Clare O’Neil has officially terminated the controversial “COVID visa,” a loophole that has been reported as being widely abused by migration agents and international students seeking a backdoor entry to the Australian job market.

COVID visa, officially known as the 408 visa and sometimes as Pandemic Event Visa, had allowed its holders to work unlimited hours for a duration of 12 months. However, over time, it became evident that this provision was being taken advantage of, with an estimated 120,000 individuals using the visa to gain access to full-time employment opportunities within the country.

The rapid rise in the number of individuals on the 408 visa, particularly in the past year, had raised alarms among immigration experts and officials. Notably, the visa had become a popular option for international students hailing from countries like India, the Philippines, and Nepal, as they sought ways to transition from their study visas to this employment-oriented category. This trend had led to concerns that the visa was being exploited to avoid the established pathways for work permits and permanent residency.

A release by the Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil  and Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Giles, said, “From 2 September 2023, the Pandemic Event visa will only be open to applications from existing Pandemic Event visa holders.  All other visa holders will be ineligible for the Pandemic Event visa. This is a transitional measure to promote visa integrity. Anyone with a valid Pandemic Event visa will remain lawful until their current visa expires.”

As of the end of May, the number of people holding 408 visas had surged to 105,300, a stark contrast from the mere 17,000 holders less than a year prior. Experts had long argued that the 408 visa had no valid reason to exist, as it was increasingly being misused by unscrupulous agents and students to circumvent the intended purpose of the immigration system.

Prominent immigration expert Abul Rizvi questioned the government’s timing in addressing the issue, citing the extensive abuse that the 408 visa had been subjected to over several months. 

“Stock of SC408 (mainly COVID visa stream) at end June ’23 was 122,000 & rising rapidly. When will Govt close this to new apps? What will be Govt policy for those holding this visa but no pathway to PR,” Mr Rizvi had asked on Twitter.

Rizvi’s concerns were echoed by others within the field who had voiced their skepticism regarding the delay in implementing corrective measures.

Minister Andrew Giles observed, “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.”

The government has taken a series of measures to rectify the situation. Notably, Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor successfully garnered the support of all states and territories to empower the vocational education regulator with the authority to prevent individuals of questionable backgrounds from owning or operating colleges.

Additionally, Immigration Minister Clare O’Neil, in collaboration with Education Minister Jason Clare, announced comprehensive changes to visa conditions. One of the most significant changes requires international students to demonstrate savings of at least $24,500, aiming to ensure that they can support themselves financially during their stay. Furthermore, new rules prohibit international students from enrolling in a second course within the first six months of their stay.

More: Student visa: Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) to be abolished?

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