Australian borders – what’s the (current) go?

There has been a lot of coverage recently that Australia is ‘open’ again. That the borders have come crashing down and that the skilled workers, students and tourists can now make their way down under.

The reality is not quite that simple.

Most of the coverage came off the back of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet announcing that NSW was open for business. The substance of that announcement was that NSW was ending hotel quarantine for overseas arrivals who are fully vaccinated.

This is fantastic news but NSW doesn’t control the border in terms of the granting of visas and also the granting of exemptions to enter the country.

So, what is the current reality (as at 09/11/2021)?

For people who are not Australian citizens or Permanent Residents, there are still two requirements before you can enter Australia:

  1. You have a valid visa
  2. You have been granted an exemption to enter the country

Without both, you won’t be getting in.

Anyone can apply for a visa, but will it be processed? At the moment, most of the processing times run into months. The current advertised processing times for several of the popular employer sponsored visa classes are:

  • 482 Short Term: 10 – 12 months
  • 482 Medium Term: 3 – 10 months
  • 186 Direct Entry: 6 – 11 months

There is a lot of variation in those times dependent on the size of the sponsor, the occupation of the applicant, whether the sponsor is accredited, the salary being offered, etc. but they are what you can generally expect.

If the applicant is offshore, these times can be longer if medical checks are required.

The second step is an exemption to enter Australia. Even with the visa, you can’t just hop on a plane and enter Australia. You need the exemption or you’ll be stopped from boarding at the gate.

Exemptions seem to be quite random. We’ve had reports of people applying 22 times and being refused, only to be successful on the 23rd attempt. They are prioritised towards people who are part of Australia’s health and economic recovery from Covid, with the emphasis on health. So that is your doctors, nurses, hospital pharmacists, etc.

There can be a discrepancy between what business considers essential and what the Australian Government considers essential, however without the exemption the visa holder can’t enter.

So what is the order of entry of non-Australians?

The Federal Government has prioritised family members of Australian citizens and Permanent Residents as the first cohort who be allowed to apply for a visa and an exemption. This will be an incredibly large cohort as parents and grandparents rush to see family they haven’t seen for a couple of years.

The next cohort that they have indicated they will prioritise is either students or skilled workers, or both. That’s unclear.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has given increasing indications that they recognise that there is currently a massive skill shortage in Australia and something that they hope to address before Christmas.

This is where this challenge comes in.

Based on current processing times, there’s very little chance that there will be a meaning flow of skilled workers into the country for at least a year, if not longer.

There is currently a massive backlog of unprocessed applications for 482 TSS visas in the system that will need to be processed before they can process new ones. Offshore applications are generally processed in Australian offices overseas and these offices have been largely unmanned during Covid. They will need to brought back up to speed if processing is going to be expedited.

Backpackers and Tourists are at the back of the queue when it comes to which visa classes can come to Australia, so it’s going to be a long time before the Working Holiday Makers are back in any kind of numbers that many industries need to alleviate the severe skill shortages that are already being seen in industries such as advertising and marketing.

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