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Hospitality work extension in Australia welcomed but 408 visa move questioned

Student visa holders employed in the tourism and hospitality sector in Australia are now eligible to work beyond the 40-hour fortnightly limit, the Morrison government has announced.

Stakeholders fear the 408 Covid-19 Pandemic Event Visa extension “signals the death of onshore student visa extensions”. Photo: Unsplash

"It is apparent that the intention for this policy is to use international students to fill in the massive hole that is Australia’s skill shortage caused by border closure"

It has also said temporary visa holders will be able to access the 408 Covid-19 Pandemic Event Visa for those working in the tourism and hospitality sector for a period of 12 months. The visa category was introduced to permit workers in critical industries to remain in the country.

The Department of Home Affairs indicated the move will help to support Australia’s Covid-19 economic recovery, however the decision on the 408 visa has been heavily criticised by the industry.

Earlier in 2021, the Morrison government said that student visa holders working in the agriculture sector would be permitted to work more than the usual 40 hours per fortnight limit during semesters to support Australian farmers struggling to find workers during Covid-19.

Other “critical sectors” eligible for the visa flexibility include food processing, health care, aged care, disability care and child care.

“Government has listened carefully to the states, territories and industry and is introducing these changes to support critical sectors for Australia’s Covid-19 economic recovery,” said the country’s minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Alex Hawke.

“Australia needs to move faster on a safe and efficient return plan for stranded international students along with Australians”

“Tourism and hospitality employs more than half a million Australians and these changes will allow them to supplement their existing workforce to keep their businesses running in addition to generating employment through a job multiplier effect,” he said.

“We welcome the freedom of choice for international students to work beyond 40 hours per fortnight in hospitality and tourism. This can make a difference for students in financial hardship,” said Council of International Students Australia president Belle Lim in statement. “However, it is apparent that the intention for this policy is to use international students to fill in the massive hole that is Australia’s skill shortage caused by border closure.”

Despite it being positive news for students in the immediate term, “in the long run, this line of policy rationale further perpetuates the danger of undervaluing international students and graduates in our chosen fields”, she continued.

“International students made substantial cultural, diplomatic, productivity and economic contribution to Australia, that is not adequately acknowledged by this government.”

She also highlighted Australia is “lagging far behind” other developed countries on border reopening.

“Using onshore international students, whose welfare was neglected during the pandemic, in an attempt to fill the hole of global mobility and skills is not going to be enough. Australia needs to move faster on a safe and efficient return plan for stranded international students along with Australians.”

Australia’s May budget assumptions indicated borders will remain shut until mid-2022.

Principal of MulderPR Dirk Mulder suggested that the 408 visa announcement could create a “temptation for students to put work before their studies and will drive behaviour of students seeking to stay in Australia for work rather than those waiting for a chance to go home”.

Erica Carneiro, director of Bravo Migration, said opening up the 408 visa for some students at the end of their current studies is a “total unnecessary move”.

“[This] would allow them to remain in Australia and work full time for up to 12 months.

“Of those who may be able to apply, not all would benefit from this application: they may be slapped with a ‘No Further Stay’ condition, this may come to haunt their Genuine Temporary Entrant submissions in future applications, they may become restricted to working for one employer only, among other disadvantages in my opinion,” she said.

“There is no need for a student who can now work full time to apply for this visa, unless they have really arrived at the end of their Australian journey, everyone else would benefit from continuing their studies, which would actually take them further in Australia – professional and visa-wise.”

General manager of Go Study Australia, Simon Costain, has urged the sector to appeal to minister Hawke.

“The final death blow for Australia’s international education sector has been dealt – I urge anyone with any interest to act immediately,” he said.

Latest statistics from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment show that the 483,484 international students enrolled in February 2021 was down 17% from a year before. The number of ELICOS students has plummeted 67% over the year.

The extended 408 visa for hospitality and tourism “signals the death of onshore student visa extensions”, Costain said, which will lead to a drop in onshore extension students that international colleges, education agencies even TAFE and government institutions have been relying on for the last 15 months.

“This initiative gives no incentive for a student to stay on a student visa and will see the mass exodus from studies,” he said.

“Schools have already started reporting cancellations”

“Students can gain full work right by switching visas. As of this morning (Saturday), schools have already started reporting cancellations.

“This decision was made without any industry consultation and is a clear case of one arm of the government not talking to another case. The Morrison government has once again displayed a lack of understanding or empathy for the education sector,” he said.

“I am continuing to take feedback and advice from a range of sectors and will make further announcements on temporary visa flexibility measures and priority skills in the near future,” minister Hawke added.

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