For the last two years, migrant movement into Australia has changed dramatically in light of COVID.  The Department of Home Affairs, Australia’s government agency in charge of migration, has executed constrain strategies that has altered the migration program to now reflect the following:

THE PRESENT

  • Only essential workers/high skilled workers and returning nationals can travel through borders.
  • Onerous quarantining for incoming passengers which is expensive and stifling business travel.
  • Processing visa for offshore international students has come to a halt.
  • Implemented quick fix-it solutions like the COVID subclass 408 visa to assist stranded migrants living in Australia.
  • Relaxing visa conditions for onshore students/working holiday makers so they can work in  COVID affected industries.
  • Stronger border closure has added an extra layer of requirements to enter and exit (i.e., travel exemptions), only adding to the anxiety of traveling in and out of the country.
  • Tourism is non-existent.
  • The General Skilled Migration program is partially operating and is unlikely to return to pre-COVID planning levels for many years.
  • World-event driven visa concessions are being given to groups of people that need refuge (e.g., Hong Kong and Afghan nationals).

Many neighboring countries continue to grapple with high COVID infections rates daily.  This, coupled with the uneven distribution of vaccines, means that countries, including Australia, will be reticent to open their borders too early in fear that their own public health systems will be overwhelmed. 

Australia has the advantage of being a borderless country and benefited from a hardened approach to border closure.  However, this will have to come to an end soon.  The full impact of this is still unknown, but what we do know is that it has had long lasting negative effects on families who have been separated, debilitated businesses and excluded migrants and Australians who are stranded overseas.

THE FUTURE

Australian migration has always been dynamic in nature but COVID has been an unprecedented event that has shifted the entire paradigm of migration policy making forever.  It is likely that public health will now underpin decisions on ‘who’ gets a visa and ‘who’ will be disqualified from entering the country.

In navigating this uncharted territory, M Legal’s lawyers believe that having the foresight to be able to spot trends will improve advice to clients and an ability plan for their futures. 

In future gazing, we have identified a number of themes that we see as shaping Australian migration over the next few years (and some may even remain in place for the long-term):

1.       Can’t travel spontaneously

It is an evident reality that travelling cannot be as straightforward as it once was. Specifically, individuals will now need to consider pre and post departure requirements that are involved with travel. This includes the necessity of being vaccinated, being tested prior to departure and upon arrival, and having to quarantine. 

We are expecting that some of these measures will continue to be in place for the long haul and will become accepted as the normal travel routine.

2.       Travel Bubbles

Travel bubbles are being created through bi-lateral arrangements formed by governments, such as Australia and New Zealand, facilitating easier travelling.  Over the coming months, Australia will be creating more of these bubbles with ‘low-risk’ countries that have high vaccination rates as a way of easing back into international travel.

3.      Vaccination Passports (Digital)

Vaccine passports (and/or certifications) are an option that many countries are considering to adopt, if not have already adopted.  Australia is one of these countries, with various states such as New South Wales and Victoria opting to implement this strategy. Vaccine passports will be the universal stamp of approval that aims to verify whether you can travel.  However, it may be a little while before the system can be trusted as governments figure out how to iron-out kinks like data privacy and security.

4.  Some restrictions remain

Governments will continue to encourage COVID etiquette such as the use of masks and social distancing, to minimise the risk of outbreaks in Australia.  We expect that the messaging around this etiquette will relax only when Australia hits its vaccination targets in due course. 

5. Reduced quotas

The pandemic has had significant impacts on migration with the Net Overseas Migration forecasting that there would be a substantial drop in migration levels to such an extent that it would be negative.  Accordingly, Australia will become even more selective, favouring individuals who will accelerate the process of the economic recovery by placing greater value on higher education levels and entrepreneurial abilities.

 6.       Stricter visa regimes

The pandemic has only intensified the difficulties in securing visas globally.  It has also cemented in many people’s view, which countries are likely to take care of its citizens during a global crisis and lead through a pandemic well.  In an effort to monitor migrant numbers, the regulatory visa framework is only likely to tighten further, making it more challenging for migrants to find a visa pathway over the coming years.

7.       Longer processing timeframes

Visa processing timeframes for applications will be lengthier.  For this reason, it will be paramount to understand how to expedite applications and be across the right short term and long term strategies to set the right expectations and work towards your migration goals.

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M Legal takes into account the big picture so if you found this article useful, give us a call to book your consultation.

Co-written by Sofia Maniam and Priscilla Shibu

COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on a global scale. Many individuals have faced, and are continuing to face challenges—whether it be loneliness, financial stress, or health problems—triggered by COVID-19. Amongst such uncertain times and in moments of helplessness and vulnerability, M Legal offers an empathetic and unique environment of lawyers who provide certainty and help.

Tailored and individualised approach

M Legal delivers services that are tailored to meet each client’s individualised needs. Every individual undergoes such different experiences and therefore, need lawyers who are experts. The last 12 months is proof that our advisors have weathered the storm, to be able to navigate clients through the complexities in law in the areas of immigration and property, that have arisen.  This is in part due to M Legal lawyers being involved in every step of the transactional process, so we can embed a deeper knowledge of our area and understand client’s pain points, to make our services better.

Lower overheads and flexibility because of being a cloud-based business

M Legal is a cloud-based practice. This gives us the flexibility and technological capabilities to work with anyone, anywhere, and at any time.  The past year has proved that the structure that M Legal has always embraced, is the best way to run a firm. Whilst other law practices might be adjusting to new changes that COVID-19 has demanded, M Legal is experienced in a cloud-based approach. This change has not affected us and we offer this stability and experience to our clients.

It also means that M Legal has lower overhead costs. The costs associated with running a conventional law firm office, is not factored into the costs that our clients are charged. We believe this is important given the financial pressures this pandemic has placed on many individuals. M Legal continues to provide quality services that are competitively priced.  

High level of experience and expertise

At M Legal, we only hire lawyers who have worked in the industry for more than five years. This means that our lawyers are specialised in such a way that their technical knowledge is perfected, ensuring that our clients receive expert advice that can only come through years of experience. Working with a lawyer from M Legal means that you will always talk to a lawyer who is experienced as opposed to a junior staff member.

Personal care, attention, and availability

Lawyers at M Legal make themselves readily available with a flexible time range. Since M Legal is a boutique law firm, any concerns from our clients can be addressed in a timely manner. Moreover, because we run our firm with a focus on personal care, clients are able to contact us at times that work better with their schedules, especially as we know most of us are at work from 9am-5pm. We know that these are trying times and so we willingly collaborate with our clients to answer every question that they might have.  We do not see it as case management. Rather, we value each individual and guide our clients so that the best possible outcomes can be achieved.

Let’s talk

In a world that continues to hold so many uncertainties, M Legal continues to be primed for uncertainty in the area of immigration and property law. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you soon.

Co-authored by Sofia Maniam and Priscilla Shibu

For those living in NSW, you can now have certain legal documents witnessed through virtual means i.e. through video conference. This is a result of a temporary regulation introduced by the NSW Government called the Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (NSW) (“the regulation”) and its aim is to cater to the physical distancing requirements in the current COVID-19 environment and reduce face-to-face contact.

Some of the legal documents included under this new regulation include Wills, Enduring Power of Attorneys, Affidavits and Statutory Declarations. These documents still need to be signed by each party with wet ink signatures (i.e. each party still needs to physically sign with pen on paper), however, the witnessing of the signature of the person signing the document can be done via video. Once the witness has seen the other person signing the document via video, the witness then needs to sign a scanned copy of the document or counterpart of the document. A statement also needs to be made on the document outlining that the document was witnessed in accordance with the new regulation.

In the ACT, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 (ACT) was passed on 7 May 2020, allowing the same to happen in the ACT.

If you are unsure whether you are able to use electronic witnessing for your particular document or would like assistance with it, please do not hesitate to contact our lawyers at M Legal.