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In brief

Exploring the current mobility landscape and anticipated challenges Australian employers will face with employee travel and immigration processes.

Travel Ban and Visa Processing

The Australian Government continues to place a ban on inbound travel for those seeking to enter Australia who are not Australian citizens, permanent residents, or New Zealand citizens usually resident in Australia.

Australian Border Force consider and grant travel exemptions to immediate family members of the Australian citizens and permanent residents, and foreign nationals with critical skills, such as medical professionals.

Travel exemptions are also being granted to those who are able to demonstrate compassionate and compelling reasons to travel to Australia.

The outbound travel ban, which came into effect on 25 March 2020, continues to apply to all Australian citizens and permanent residents, unless they are able to establish one of the available outbound travel exemptions grounds.

Offshore visa processing is still on hold but onshore visa processing is continuing, although the applications have encountered significant processing delays.

What should employers expect in a post COVID-19 world?

Domestic and International Borders

We anticipate over the upcoming month that the remaining Australian state borders will reopen which will facilitate further calls on creating international travel bubbles.

We expect to see a trans-Tasman Covid-safe travel zone established between New Zealand and Australia. This will likely be the first international travel zone permitted by the Australian Government. Similarly, we expect travel bubbles developing to other countries and regions (likely the Pacific and Asia region initially) with low rates of infection. The rationale behind these travel bubbles is to establish connectivity with those countries with low risks of COVID-19 infections.

Employer Sponsored Visas

The release of the updated Skilled Migration Lists (the occupations lists that reflect genuine skill shortages across Australia) has been delayed due to calls to review the lists in light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact. We anticipate further changes to the flagged occupations and the release of new migration lists over the upcoming months.

Due to the Australian economic downturn and increased unemployment rate of Australian citizens and permanent residents, we anticipate an “Australians first” approach to employment opportunities.  This will result in an increase of scrutiny on positions nominated under employer sponsored visas. We expect that the Department of Home Affairs will take a similar approach to that observed after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

As we saw in the post GFC immigration space, employers should anticipate requests for further information on subclass 482 Temporary Skilled Shortage visas and subclass 186/187 Employer Nomination Scheme visas. The following areas are likely to be subject to scrutiny:

      • whether the sponsored position is genuine, particularly in light of any redundancies since the outbreak of COVID-19;
      • whether the business has the finances to pay the visa applicant, particularly in the context where the business has applied for JobKeeper and has shown a significant reduction in business turnover;
      • whether there were genuine attempts at recruiting Australian citizens/permanent residents from the local labour market (if advertising was required for the application).

In anticipation of the above, we will be working with employers at the initial stages of the visa process to explore any issues that may be raised by the Department of Home Affairs.

We expect that less scrutiny will be applied to industries where skill shortages continue such as health, aged and disability care, agriculture and food processing.

Student Visas

The Australian Government is focusing on rejuvenating the education sector by allowing certain international student visa holders to return to Australia to resume their studies. This could occur as early as next month. However this will be subject to state agreements and international border restrictions.

Global Talent Independent Program

The Australian Government will also be attempting to attract the world’s best and brightest to Australia through its Global Talent Independent program (GTI) which targets high growth industries and provides a fast-tracked process to permanent residency for highly skilled migrants in particular industries.

These industry sectors are AgTech, FinTech, MedTech, Cyber Security, Energy and Mining Technology, Space and Advanced Manufacturing, and Quantum Information/Advanced Digital/ Data Science and ICT.

The visa applicant must be able to demonstrate (amongst other things) that they have the ability to attract a salary at or above the Fair Work High Income Threshold (FWHIT), which is currently AUD 148,700 (subject to change on 1 July 2020).

Please reach out to us if you would like further information on this program.

APAC Webinar: Keep your workforce mobility ready as the borders reopen 

If you are interested in finding out more about key immigration challenges and issues that companies will likely face in the Asia Pacific jurisdictions such as Australia, China, Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, we invite you to our online APAC Webinar on Wednesday 24 June 2020. Please see this link for registration details.


Michael has more than 15 years' experience as an employment law and industrial relations lawyer, acting for clients in a range of industries, including banking and finance, insurance, health and pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, real estate, media and entertainment, information technology and professional services. He has developed and published compliance programs and best practice policies locally and within Asia Pacific. He is the author and a developer of CCH’s Employment Contracts Manager, a software package that builds and tailors smart employment contracts. He has also authored a large number of chapters in every edition of CCH’s Australian Master Human Resources Guide. Articles written by Michael on employment law topics have appeared in the Melbourne University Law Review, CFO Magazine, Human Capital, Lawyers Weekly, Human Resources, and CCH’s Employment Law Bulletin. He has also spoken at events arranged by the College of Law, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, and various professional associations. He wrote and produced “Dismissal Impossible,” a training video on unfair dismissal and sexual harassment, for the Australian Stock Exchange. Michael regularly conducts employment-related litigation before State and Federal courts and industrial tribunals at an original and appellate level.


Hanna Jung is a senior associate in Baker McKenzie's Australian Immigration team and a registered migration agent (MARN: 1278157).


Catherine Fitzpatrick is an associate in Baker McKenzie's Australian Immigration team and a registered migration agent (MARN: 1791580).