International students will have their 40-hour-a-fortnight working cap lifted in an effort to ease the pressure of workforce shortages in a number of industries, including commercial cleaning.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the federal government will temporarily remove the 40-hour-a-fortnight cap on student visa-holder workers for all ongoing students as well as new student arrivals who wish to commence a job prior to course commencement.
“Students will have no hour restrictions on them being able to, available for work in Australia if they’re already here,” Morrison said.
Kim Puxty, national president of the Building Service Contractors Association of Australia (BSCAA) said the cleaning industry is one of Australia’s largest employers for international students and with the pool of eligible international students reduced it has had a dramatic impact.
The BSCAA had been calling on government to extend working hours for international students in the cleaning industry since May last year, when restrictions were lifted in other sectors including hospitality, aged care, tourism, and for NDIS providers.
“When the lifting of the 40-hour working restriction only extended to select industries, the cleaning industry suffered with international students leaving employment to seek work that offered the ability to earn more income with more hours,” Puxty said.
Puxty said the visa hours extension will provide a relief to staffing issues the cleaning industry is experiencing and more work opportunities for international students.
“With international students among the worst affected financially at the start of the pandemic, extended working hours will assist them to support themselves and their families in a more secure industry.”
Puxty said the industry still requires urgent access to RAT kits so they can be provided to cleaners given their importance to keeping workplaces hygienically safe.
“The cleaning industry values the safety of its frontline staff and access to RAT’s is essential more than ever now that isolation exemptions are in place. BSCAA will continue to advocate for RAT kits for the industry.”
Mark Piwkowski, CEO of Quayclean, which had lobbied and written to the PM and the Minister for Home Affairs urging government to relax student visa working hours, said the announcement will provide some relief to labour shortages.
“Quayclean welcomes the government’s decision as, traditionally, student visa holders comprise around 60 per cent of our workforce,” Piwkowski said.
“Not only will be government’s decision provide some relief to labour shortages but, importantly, it will assist with providing more front-line preventative hygiene services as the wider community continues to battle with the current pandemic.”
Visa charges to be waived for international students and working holiday makers
On Wednesday, the PM announced international students and working holiday makers who arrive in Australia from today will have their visa application fees rebated.
The current visa application fee charge for international students is $630.
“There are around 150,000 students who have visas who we are encouraging to come back to be there for the start of their university or college year, and that is a thank you to them for coming back and continuing to choose Australia,” Morrison said.
“We also want them to come here and be able to be filling some of these critical workforce shortages, particularly those who are working and being trained in health care, aged care, those types of sectors. That will be incredibly helpful. And that will be for the next eight weeks.”
The current visa application fee charge for working holiday makers is $495.
“There are some 23,500 backpackers who have visas to come to Australia right now,” Morrison said.
“My message to them is – come on down. Come on down now, because you’re wanted to come to Australia, you’ve got your visa.
“We want you to come to Australia and enjoy a holiday here in Australia, move all the way, all the way around the country, and at the same time join our workforce and help us in our agricultural sector, in our hospitality sector, and so many of the other parts of the, of the economy that rely on that labour, that workforce right now.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the changes to the visa requirements and the working requirements of people on visas “is going to make a real difference”.
“Today we’re opening up an opportunity for 175,000 more students and working holiday makers to come to Australia,” Frydenberg said.
“We’re putting out the welcome mat to 175,000 students and working holiday makers to come to Australia and to take up this opportunity by ensuring that they get rebated that visa application charge.”
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