Australia's borders to reopen 21 February, international students and backpackers benefit from removal of work limits and visa refunds

So far, 2022 has brought good news for international travellers, students and working holiday makers. Key developments include:

1. Australia's borders will reopen to double vaccinated travellers on 21 February 2022

Australia's borders will reopen on 21 February 2022 to all double vaccinated travellers, business people and visitors. To enter Australia, travellers must show they have been vaccinated or possess a medical certificate. Those who are not vaccinated will be required to apply for a travel entry exemption and may need to undergo quarantine.

Travellers will still need to adhere to local requirements of the various states and territories, even after 21 February. These can include quarantine and other testing requirements. Except for Western Australia, which requires a two-week quarantine, most states and territories currently allow quarantine-free travel from overseas.

2. International students can now work more than 40 hours per fortnight

To address worker shortages, the government has announced that student visa holders will be allowed to work more than 40 hours per fortnight across all sectors of the economy – not just those working in tourism and hospitality.

This means the Department of Home Affairs will not:

  • cancel the visas of students working more than 40 hours per fortnight;
  • refer students for breaches of s235 of the Act related to working hours; nor
  • refer employers or labour hire companies for investigation for allowing students to work in breach of their visa conditions.

This is a temporary arrangement and will be reviewed by the government in April 2022.

Additionally, if a student visa holder travels to Australia between 19 January to 19 March 2022, they will be eligible for a refund of their visa application charge (VAC). Students will be able to apply for a refund up until 31 December 2022. ​​ Both primary and secondary applicants are eligible for refunds. Details for how to apply for a refund will be released soon.

Despite the temporary removal of work limits, students must still:

  • maintain their course enrolment
  • ensure satisfactory course attendance, and
  • ensure satisfactory course progress.

You risk breaching your visa conditions if you cancel your enrolment, fail to attend classes, or fail to meet satisfactory course progress.

Employers must continue to follow Australian workplace law. Overseas workers, including international students, have the same rights under Australian workplace law as all other employees.

3. Backpackers can automatically work for more than 6 months with same employer

From 19 January 2022, Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) working in any sector anywhere in Australia can continue to work for the same employer or organisation for more than 6 months without needing to request permission. This was announced by the government as part of an attempt to attract more WHMs to Australia and help address the country’s critical workforce shortage.

It is a temporary arrangement that will last until 31 December 2022, when it will be reviewed by the government.

Additionally, WHMs who arrive in Australia between 19 January 2022 and 19 April 2022 will receive a refund on their visa application charge (VAC). The refund applies to both current offshore visa holders and new applicants who arrive within that period. All international arrivals must be fully vaccinated or hold a valid medical exemption.

Eligible travellers will be able to apply for a refund of their VAC until 31 December 2022. More details on how to apply for a refund will be made available soon.

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