Novel coronavirus leads to visa delays

First reported in Wuhan, China, during late December 2019, the aggressive coronavirus swiftly infected citizens across Hubei province, then progressively across the whole of mainland China. Reports of confirmed cases and of subsequent deaths were at first vague but numbers grew rapidly and with the relative ease of airline travel in today’s modern era, scattered cases were soon discovered in various other countries.

With rapidly-increasing case numbers, a growing death toll and with no immediately-recognised means of combatting the progress of the disease, it soon became clear that, pending development of a proven antidote, the coronavirus represented a world-wide threat so, in January 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus to be an “international emergency”.

How does this affect those who hold Australian visas?

Like several other countries (and even Hong Kong) Australia moved to protect its population from the disease. It strongly discouraged travel to nations where the virus was rampant and with the strict exceptions of Australian citizens or permanent residents and their immediate family members, it closed its borders to all travellers incoming from mainland China.

Upon arrival and until the bans are lifted, Australian citizens and permanents residents landing from mainland China are required to enter quarantine for a period of at least 14 days since their last transit through mainland China. Currently, this quarantine facility has been set up on Christmas Island.

These travel restrictions couldn’t have been imposed at a more inconvenient time, as they occurred while many Chinese students and visa holders were back in their home country for Lunar New Year celebrations, with plans to return for the first semesters of 2020.

Many thousands are now stranded.

The Australian government recognises the frustrations to those impacted but has both, a responsibility to protect the health of its population and an international duty to arrest the spread of the coronavirus.

What should visa holders expect?

  • During the course of these travel bans, temporary visa holders from mainland China should not attempt to enter Australia. To attempt entry would result in them having their visas cancelled at the airport.
  • In the event of such cancellation, they will have the option to apply for revocation of the cancellation within 28 days, but entry would be subject to travel restrictions prevailing at the time.
  • Visa holders from China, who are already in Australia but have a “No further stay” condition to their visa, may apply for a temporary waiver.
  • Visa holders from China, who are already in Australia but are subject to “Condition 8558” (a discretionary condition which states that the visa holder must not remain in Australia for more than 12 months in any 18 month period) would need to apply for another visa, in order to avert a breach of their conditions of entry.
  • Overseas students, who had planned to travel from China to commence or to continue their studies, would need to contact their education providers to discuss interim arrangements. One Australian institution, Monash University, has postponed the commencement of its academic year to March 16th and others may make similar adjustments.

We continue to seek further clarification

Sellanes Clark and Associates is an active member of the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA). Representations have been made via the MIA to Department of Home Affairs, seeking clarification of the following “grey areas” and ongoing enquiries are openly anticipated:

  • In reference to accepted arrivals, whether the definition of a “spouse” of an Australian citizen or Permanent Resident includes a de-facto partner?
  • Whether offshore partner applicants of Australian citizens/Permanent Residents, who have been issued visitor visas, will be permitted to enter the country?
  • If they were offshore when the ban was imposed, whether any concessions will be considered for applicants with time sensitive visas; e.g. international students wishing to apply for SC 485 visas?
  • Consideration re the impact of a break-in service for temporary work visa holders (e.g. SC 482 holders) where they were offshore when the ban was imposed? This is particularly relevant with regard to future Permanent Residency applications.

Light on the horizon

Almost as swiftly as these restrictions can be imposed, they have the potential to be lifted.

Work continues in laboratories around the world. Already, the coronavirus can be artificially created and that’s the first step towards discovery of an effective vaccine. Scientists are now talking in weeks or months, rather than years, and evidence of a recognised antidote will go a long way to eliminating the recent negativity.

The Australian government is reviewing its position weekly. Here at Sellanes Clark, we work proactively with all parties involved, striving to resolve a variety of borderline case studies, while ensuring that our clients are kept informed with valuable, up-to-date and relevant information.

Trusted advice and assistance

Immigration law is a complex area and one which is constantly evolving. Positive outcomes require comprehensive understanding, careful preparation and appropriate strategy.

For more information on this or on any relating issues, contact the migration law experts – Sellanes Clark and Associates – specialising in all immigration law matters.

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