Business obligations for managing overseas workers during COVID-19

19th March 2020

Many industries have been significantly impacted by the Coronavirus, with many businesses closing for a period of time to reduce costs and minimise the financial impact of this pandemic.

We've put together questions and answers for the common issues faced in relation to overseas workers and visa sponsorship that we are receiving from members. Whilst this is not an exhaustive list, we hope it will help members address immediate concerns.

If you have any further questions that are not covered in the below, please contact our team on 1300 227 658 or aisupport@absoluteimmigration.com

1. I am standing down staff, what do I do with my workers from overseas?

We would recommend that termination of sponsored workers should be your last option, especially if you will need them again when things start to get back to where they were prior to the Coronavirus.

In all instances, you need to follow Australian employment law when dealing with reducing hours, or terminating any employees, regardless of their visa status. We would suggest that you contact your employment lawyer for case-specific advice. Please see below for the different groups of overseas foreign nationals.

a) You do not have sponsor obligations to overseas foreign national employees that hold Australian permanent residency

b) You do not have sponsor obligations to the Department of Home Affairs for to overseas workers that hold temporary visas, which include:

  • subclass 500, Student visa
  • subclass 417 / 462, Working Holiday / Work and Holiday visa(s)
  • subclass 400, Temporary Work (Short Stay Specialist) visa
  • subclass 485, Temporary Graduate visa
  • subclass 489, Skilled Regional (provisional) visa
  • subclass 820 or 309, Partner visa(s)

c) You do have sponsor obligations to the Department for overseas workers that you have sponsored under the temporary working visa programs, which include:

  • subcases 457, Temporary Skill Shortage visa
  • subclass 482, Temporary Work (Skilled) visa
  • subclass 407, Training visa

2. How do I check what visa my staff member holds?

The Department’s Visa Entitlement Verification Online system (VEVO) allows employers and visa holders to check visa conditions.

Please note: When undertaking a VEVO check, you need to have authorisation from the sponsored worker. You can find a pro-forma letter on our website.

3. What about leave without pay (LWOP)?

LWOP is an option and in our view, given the current climate, a good one that will ensure that they will still remain ‘sponsored’ by your organisation, but you will not be obligated to pay them during an agreed period.

The Department recommends that LWOP should generally not exceed three months, unless the sponsor is obliged to provide the leave under Australian workplace laws.

For any LWOP, it is expected that:

  • the arrangement is mutually agreed upon by the sponsor and sponsored

    employee.

  • there is a formal application for leave without pay that has been formally

    approved by the employer (including leave applications that are processed and

    approved electronically).

Whilst not a formal requirement, we would recommend advising Sponsor Notifications sponsor.notifications@abf.gov.au that this arrangement is in place.

4. I am about commence the sponsor process for one of my employees who has a visa that is about to expire

If the business is not ready to sponsor at this stage, the best option would be to approach Absolute Immigration to discuss alternative options. We can assess your workers against the criteria for a range of visas that may be available to them.

Please contact our team for further advice on 1300 227 658 or aisupport@absoluteimmigration.com

5. What happens with applications that are already lodged?

Applications that are lodged will be going through the process as per normal. We have been advised that the Department can work remotely and whilst there may be a slowdown in processing times, this may be offset by a reduced number of applications.

In the event that the visa is approved during this period, applicants do not have to commence work with 60 days of the visa being granted. Anything past this, and we would recommend LWOP as an option until employment is possible.

6. What benefits can my employees access at this time?

At this time, there are no government benefits available to temporary visa holders, outside of reciprocal Medicare for eligible passport holders.

Employees that have applied for permanent residency may have access to Medicare, but this will depend on the application being made.

7. What if my only option is termination?

In the event that you have no other option available but to terminate sponsored workers, you will have to do this according to Australian employment law.

Please note you must notify the Department of the cessation within 28 days.

Further, sponsored workers can request that you pay for repatriation costs to their country of residence, but that this request must be made by the employee in writing. Under the business sponsor obligations, you must action this request within 30 days of this being received. Please ensure that you retain all correspondence relating to the repatriation of these employees.

For any enquires regarding your obligations to sponsored employees during this time

Contact one of our registered migration agents today