How COVID is affecting the visa holder workforce in Australia

We’ve been eagerly monitoring the Department of Home Affairs visa statistics page for the half-year 2021 numbers to be published. Sadly we continue to wait. But whilst we do, we found stats for 31 May 2021 on the site.

What we were looking for was to correlate what we’re seeing via our website traffic and in the Work and Study visa checks through out platform, with the official numbers.

TLDR – Quick Stats on Australian Temporary Visas

  • Total temporary visa holders in Australia (excluding tourists and flight crew) have dropped just 5% from Dec ’19 to May ’21.
  • Bridging visas in Australia are up 70% through the COVID period;
  • Student visas are down 40% from their September 2019 high;
  • Meanwhile graduate visas are up nearly 2% since the start of COVID;
  • Working Holiday makers are down 73%;
  • Whilst skilled working visas are off 15%;

18 months of COVID impacts

What we’ve seen through the anonymised visa data on our platform and in discussions with clients over the past 18 months, is a significant rise in bridging visas. The numbers confirm this with a significant rise in bridging visa holders in the country as at May 31 2021 vs December 31, 2019 (aka the start of COVID). The numbers are stark: 191,655 people in Australia holding a bridging visa as at December 31, 2019 compared to 325,969 as at May 31 2021. This equates to a 70% increase in bridging visa holders.

Overall total temporary visa holder numbers are down, as one would expect with borders closed that keep out even Australian citizens (but not bigoted, foreign, Big Brother contestants apparently). Excluding tourists (visitor visas are down 94% from 635,109 to just 37,760) and flight crew & people in transit (down 58%), total temporary visa holders in Australia have dropped from 1.75m as at the start of the pandemic to 1.66m, a drop of just 5% (which we find surprising given the hard border closures).

Student visa numbers have fallen significantly. From a peak in September 2019 of 633,816, as one expects, the numbers dropped at the conclusion of term 4, 2019, heading into the COVID era, with 480,543 student visas in Australia as at December 31 2019. As the chart shows, after the first quarter of 2020, numbers have been in steady decline with 376,012 student visa holders in the country as at May 31 2021 (a fall of 22% since Dec 19 and 41% off Sept 19’s peak).

Temporary visa holders in Australia | Datasets | – beta

Working Holiday maker numbers have been significantly affected, down from 141,142 in December ’19 to just 37,600 as at May 31st, a fall of 73%.

Temporary visa holders in Australia | Datasets | – beta

Interestingly, the number of Special Visas hasn’t seen much change, despite a number of Special Visas being offered during COVID (as covered in our article here). 668,687 special visas at December 31, 2019 fell 1% to 659,832 by May 2021. And Graduate Visas are actually slightly up almost 2% from 89,324 to 91,011 over the same period. Whilst Skilled Employment visas are down 15% from 119,160 to 101,519.

Workforce Implications

  • There is no doubt the dramatic drop in Working Holiday visa holders in Australia is affecting our farmers’ ability to find staff;
  • No doubt the Hospitality, Retail, Health Care and Tourism industries are affected by the drop in Student Visas (hence exemption being made for the usual 40 hours per fortnight restrictions);
  • No doubt industries such as Health Care, Technology and Engineering are affected by the drop in Skilled Visas;
  • But the fall in temporary visa holders (excluding tourists and flight crew) of just 5% from Dec ’19 to May ’21, implies the non-citizen workforce is not as severely impacted as one may think or have expected. Whilst student visas and skilled employment visas are significantly down, graduate visas are up and bridging visas have gone through the roof.

Key Implication for Employers – Bridging Visas

Bridging visa holders now make up a significant and growing part of the Australian labour force. Here at vSure we have seen a significant (>100%) traffic boost to our article on whether employers can employ bridging visa holders. The key facts are generally:

  • Bridging visas are issued whilst the non-citizen awaits determination on a visa application;
  • Work rights are determined by the previous visa (such as student visas with 8104/8105 40 hours per fortnight during term, limitations);
  • Bridging visas retain validity until 35 days after a decision on the visa application is made;
  • Decisions can be made at any time, implying your Bridging Visas need regularly rechecking to ensure you are only employing lawful non-citizens.

Ultimately the Migration Amendment [Reform of Employer Sanctions] Act 2013 requires employers to take reasonable steps at reasonable times to ensure their staff are maintaining their work rights. The growing Bridging visa population implies a heighten need for employers to recheck visas of non-citizens. Automation through the vSure platform is THE BEST way to streamline your compliance obligations as an employer.