South Africans moving to Australia have had their plans halted by Covid-19 pandemic, and it is anticipated that Australian borders will remain closed for the rest of 2020, notes Sam Hopwood, Australian migration expert at Sable International.

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The Australian government has not given any definitive answers on when the borders are going to open again, but they have suggested that lockdown measures will exist for at least another six months.

Hopwood said that South Africans are unlikely to be able to relocate there any time soon, but recommends that those wanting to move should analyse the significantly changed visa situation, and start preparing for when the borders reopen.

Get your application in the queue

The borders may be closed, but you can still submit visa applications. This means the queue is growing, so the sooner you get in the queue, the sooner you will be processed when normal processing resumes.

Migration to Australia requires a lot of preparation before a visa application can be submitted and there's no reason not to start the preparation now, said Hopwood.

Some things you can do are English language tests, skills assessments and preparing and submitting the initial application.

"However, it's important to be aware that different aspects of the application have different validity periods. An English language test is generally valid for three years, so that's something you can do now, but a police check is only valid for 12 months and must be valid at the time that you enter Australia.

"We monitor the timelines for clients who are in the queue and advise people when they should be submit each part of the application," said Hopwood.

The Australian Immigration landscape post Covid-19

"The pandemic is having a huge impact on employment and I think the government will change our immigration system to benefit the employment needs of Australians first," he said.

"So we will probably see changes in the skilled occupation lists and there may be further prioritising of certain occupations, such as healthcare. They will look at removing occupations which are not considered to be in high demand anymore.

"We'll probably see a greater emphasis put on Employer Sponsored Visas, where they've identified critical shortages, and we may see a reduction in certain subclasses of visas like the Skilled Independent Visa (subclass 189)."

This is one of the most desirable visas as it gives the holder the freedom and flexibility to live and work anywhere in Australia, according to Hopwood. People qualify for this visa based on their occupation.

"Already, pre-Covid, we've seen a big reduction in the quotas available for the 189 visa, and the government has reduced the amount of invitations that they've issued in line with their current strategy, which is to address specific skill shortages as opposed to the 189 being something of a scattergun approach.

"The government hasn't removed this particular subclass, but they have vastly reduced the amount of quotas available and redirected them to other areas of the migration programme.

"The Australian government may redirect the quotas that they have available to different subclasses better suited to address specific skill shortages in regional and state areas.

"They will probably allow those regional and state areas to build their own lists, which they currently do, but they may even target skills more directly and in more heavily-defined geographical areas," said Hopwood.

These are the best visa options for South Africans:

Employer Sponsored Visas

It's likely that in order to settle permanently in Australia, people are going to have to rely on employer-sponsored visas, noted Hopwood.

"You'll have to find an employer in Australia who is in need of your skills. More likely than not, those skills will be in demand in regional areas where Australian citizens don't want to live and work." (The majority of the Australian population is grouped within Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane).

"South Africans will need to be flexible in their approach and are going to have to be willing to live and work in a remote or regional area where employers are struggling to fill particular skills," said Hopwood.

Business Visas

Business visas, such as the Business Innovation Visa (subclass 188a), will be a particular category of visa that the government may want to embrace because this type of migration brings net financial benefits to the country.

"It also brings business skills – people who have established business, who can relay those businesses and those skills to Australia, which might improve our ability to produce products or services that can be exported overseas, which in turn would help our GDP and our economy.

"Working in or owning a business which can be replicated here in Australia is something that's still going to be attractive to the Australian government going forward," noted Hopwood.

There are certain businesses that are in demand and will replicate well in Australia, such as the software sector. Businesses that are aligned to the medium-to-long-term skilled occupation lists , such as engineering and manufacturing, stand a good chance of success.

"Generally speaking any business which has a resource of labour in South Africa, which can be utilised to set up a business in Australia are good bets.

"If you can come to Australia and service new clients using your South African workforce, it gives you a competitive advantage to set up and grow a business in Australia. Digital marketing is an example that we've seen in the past which has worked quite well.

"The best place to start is to find a client to service in Australia. If you have a contract of service, that's the key indicator for the Australian government to demonstrate that you have a genuine need to be in Australia," said Hopwood.

Student Visas

The international student market in Australia is considered to be an export industry and is valued at around AUD $35 billion a year.

According to ABC news, in a typical year, tertiary institutions bring in about AUD $8.84 billion in fees from overseas students, which amounts to 26% of their total revenue. "Obviously, that will not be the case this year thanks to the global pandemic – it therefore stands to reason that the government will likely push the student visa going forward," said Hopwood.

"As things stand, the Australian government has already provided incentives for international students to encourage them to stay in Australia after they complete their studies. If you come to Australia and study a Bachelor's or Master's degree, once you've completed that qualification you are then eligible for a post-study work visa, which is granted to you for a period of two years.

"This visa gives you full, unrestricted, work rights here in Australia."

Often the student then obtains a job or a graduate programme. "They work for a particular employer for two years. They ingrain themselves within the organisation and towards the end of that two-year period, the organisation often wants to retain the skills that they've developed, and they can do that through a number of different employer-sponsored options.

"This often results in a temporary work visa, which leads on to permanent work visas, which leads to residency and then ultimately Australian citizenship," said Hopwood.

It's also a good idea to find an employer who might consider sponsoring you once you're in Australia, said Hopwood. Some of the state governments also offer additional incentives, which allow you to qualify for permanent visas under the Skilled Nominated Visa (subclass 190) if you're a graduate.

"The only drawback is that international students do pay quite large fees in order to study in Australia. It's just a matter of weighing up the pros and cons of coming to Australia as a student and paying those larger fees, looking at the long game and then thinking about what your options are thereafter," Hopwood said.

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