Expansion of ‘Critical Skills and Sectors’ Exemption from Australian Border Restrictions

Expansion of exemptions from Australian border restrictions

Guest post by Leah Kang, Robert Walters Immigration Services

On 20 March 2020, Australia closed its borders to all non-citizens and non-residents – with limited exemptions for immediate family members and those working in critical sectors or with critical skills. Since then, all visa applications lodged from an offshore location were left pending unless applicants could demonstrate they fell into one of the limited exemptions.

However, on 24 July 2020 – in welcome news that will have many Australian employers and incoming employees breathing a sigh of relief – the Department of Home Affairs clarified and expanded on their definition of critical sectors and skills to include:

  • Individuals delivering services in sectors critical to Australia’s economic recovery, where no Australian worker is available, including but not limited to
    • Financial Technology
    • Large Scale Manufacturing
    • Film and Television Production, and
    • Emerging Technology
  • Individuals with critical skills required to maintain the supply of essential goods and services in Australia, including but not limited to
    • Medical Technology
    • Critical Infrastructure
    • Telecommunications
    • Engineering and Mining
    • Supply Chain Logistics
    • Agriculture Technology
    • Food Production, and
    • Maritime Industry

What does this mean?

As a result of this update, overseas talent with skills that fall into the above sectors may be granted an exemption to enter Australia if:

  • They hold, or have applied for an Australian visa (this includes temporary or permanent employer sponsored visas and short stay specialist visas – among many others); and
  • They have been granted a travel restriction exemption by the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force.

Travel restriction exemption applications will need to be supported by comprehensive information and evidence answering to the requirements.

For overseas talent who will deliver services in sectors critical to Australia’s economic recovery, applications should be accompanied by evidence that

  • The individual will undertake a role within the nominated sector;
  • No Australian worker is available to undertake the role; and
  • The nominated sector is critical to Australia’s economic recovery (if not included in the above list provided by the Department of Home Affairs).

On the other hand, for overseas talent with critical skills required to maintain the supply of essential goods and services in Australia, travel restriction applications should be accompanied by evidence that

  • The individual will undertake a role within an organisation that is involved in the supply of essential goods and services;
  • Their role is critical to the organisation’s activities in the supply of essential goods and services;
  • The organisation is involved in the supply of essential goods and services (if the sector within which the organisation operates is not included in the above list provided by the Department of Home Affairs).

What can we expect going forward?

In my view, these changes are indicative of the Australian government’s recognition that Australia’s economic recovery forms an integral part of our COVID-19 response alongside other previously-recognised sectors such as agriculture and supply chain logistics.

Additionally, the importance of the Tech sector within these expanded exemptions (in particular FinTech, Emerging Tech, MedTech, and AgTech) also indicate the government’s view that – in addition to effectively maintaining the supply of essential goods and services – this sector will drive innovation, create jobs, and ultimately help to drive Australia’s economic recovery going forward. 

Finally, following the government’s recent announcement regarding their $400 million grant to attract film and television productions to Australia, it is also great to see that the film and television production sector has quickly been confirmed as critical to Australia’s economic recovery in this update. 

Judging from these changes, it is likely that further expansion of our travel exemptions will prioritise individuals who will undertake work in the broader tech and entertainment sectors, or who can otherwise demonstrate that their entry will benefit Australia economically. 

For now, it is certainly fantastic to see some good news relating to the relaxation of our border restrictions – some light at the end of the tunnel for both employers and overseas talent alike.   

Having a trusted immigration advisor can help your organisation prepare strong travel exemption applications and navigate the frequent immigration changes during these challenging times. 

The Robert Walters Immigration Services team can assist both organisations and individuals with their immigration requirements and facilitate the employment of overseas skilled workers. If you would like immigration assistance (including on travel exemptions, visa applications, and strategic advice on your organisation’s global mobility processes), please do not hesitate to contact me at Leah.Kang@robertwalters.com.au 

Legal Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and whilst all care is taken, the information is subject to change without notice. This article is not intended to provide legal advice and the application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved.