The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many changes, including visa conditions for international students.

International students in Australia

A large number of international students remain in Australia despite the pandemic and many work in the Australian community to support themselves while they study.

Usually student visas have a condition attached that limits the number of hours that the visa holder is allowed to work while in Australia, generally a maximum of 40 hours per fortnight during semester. Through semester breaks when study obligations are fewer, the working hours’ restriction does not apply. It is often during this period that students seek as many hours work as possible to allow them to earn enough to support themselves for the rest of the year.

COVID-19 impact

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a few difficulties into the lives of international students. One is that the movement between Australia and their home country has been severely curtailed, so the opportunity to return home over the extended summer break has been largely closed off. Not only have limited flights and border closures made returning home difficult, but the likelihood of not being able to return to Australia to continue studies also restricted choices. This means that many have had to find employment to support themselves while remaining in Australia during the long summer break.

In addition, for some, implications from the pandemic may have reduced the capacity of family or sponsors in their home country to financially support them while here.

Working full-time has been allowable under normal student visa conditions during the summer semester break. However, increased unemployment and reduced opportunities in the hospitality sector, where many would have sought work, has reduced options. At the same time farms have suffered from less workers being available because backpackers, who made up a significant proportion of that workforce, have returned to their home countries.

More flexible working limits

So in response to coronavirus conditions the Department of Home Affairs announced a number of changes to student visas, including the temporary relaxation of working hours. This has the effect that currently anyone on a student visa who works beyond their normal restricted hours will be free to do so, but only if they are working in certain industries, including agriculture.

Of course students will still need to limit working hours to allow for satisfactory study time.  And of course most universities and colleges are in metropolitan areas, some distance from farms that need the workers.  However with distance learning allowable in some circumstances, or free days from part-time study or weekends making regular short stays away a possibility, there may be a chance to build working hours around study obligations. 

So in the absence of backpackers, the increased availability of extra hours for international students might provide some extra working hours to build savings that was not possible previously.