Hardships experienced because of long processing times for onshore 887 visa applicants looking to get their permanent residency have been thrown into sharp relief by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over one-and-a-half thousand of these visa holders, six of which are in Tamworth, have signed a petition addressed to the Home Affairs Minister to reduce these wait times so they can “continue with their lives”.
Candidates on Visa Subclass 489 are required to live in Australia for two years, and work in a regional area for one year to meet their requirements. Some have not been able to find skilled employment in these regions.
However processing times have increased gradually from three to fours months to two and a half years.
These delays during the pandemic means many 887 applicants have lost work, and without access to the Federal Government safety net including the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments.
“It’s a big issue with COVID-19. I’m working in essential industry, but many other people are losing jobs, and they don’t have anything to fall back on. It’s just one big mess”
For New England’s Mizanur Rehman, a skilled migrant from Bangladesh on a 489 visa, he has already waited over one year for his 887 permanent residency visa to be processed, and is facing more time.
While his work is essential, his friends on the same visa are now facing destitution.
“We are in Australia, we are paying tax, but not getting any benefit from government,” he explained.
“It’s a big issue with COVID-19. I’m working in essential industry, but many other people are losing jobs, and they don’t have anything to fall back on.
“It’s just one big mess.”
The petition participants say they understand the processing delays, however the gain in comparison to other visas is “exponential” – almost seven times the length.
“We have been left in the lurch … Many of us are on the verge of losing a big chunk of our earnings.”
With the current travel bans, many are unsure about going overseas to wait for their application to be processed, able to work in their skilled professions.
Yet Tamworth Immigration Lawyer Mark Lyden says there should be no problem if they decide to leave the country during the crisis.
“It is possible for people to apply for a 887 and then return to their country of origin while the application is processed, and return to Australian prior to a decision being made,” Mr Lyden said.
“We don’t know what the future holds, but the expectation at this stage, sooner or later the inbound traffic restrictions will be rolled back, I’m quite confident the government will make COVID testing compulsory for inbound passengers and those restrictions will be lifted.
“I have had people talk to me about the issues, and have made difficult decision to go home. It seemed sensible, even though there is some risk with returning.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said visas continue to be processed but “some applications may take longer as international shutdowns.”
“For those on temporary visas awaiting a decision on a permanent visa, they are able to remain in Australia until that decision is finalised,” they said.
The government has also announced support for temporary skilled visa holders stood down, but not laid off, by their employer during the crisis, including the ability to retain their visa and access their Australian superannuation.