Understandably, our temporary resident visitors are worried about visa processing times and the Immigration Department’s ability to keep working to look after visa lodgements if the Coronavirus spreads widely in Australia. Very sorry to Tom Hanks and his wife to come all the way here to catch it. We hope all those who have the virus get well soon.

While we can’t speak for the department’s future policies we can outline three important issues to keep in mind.

Firstly, processing times. The department is only human so they too will be susceptible to getting sick. I’m sure those at immigration who can work remotely from home are already doing so or will be shortly. Of course there will be an impact upon processing times if the number of available case officers are reduced. The department has the capacity to allocate files to offshore processing centres as well if they are in a position to assist.

If processing times take longer, then any bridging visa you have in Australia will just continue for as long as it takes to decide on your application. This includes the AAT and Court applications. There is no time limit a bridging visa can go on for. The can exist indefinitely in theory. The exception is a Bridging visa E which may have a time limit on it but in reality most of you will be on BVA, BVB or BVC.

Read: The ABC’s Of Bridging Visas

Secondly, online visa applications. Nearly all visas these days are applied via the department’s online system. No people involved in this process, just you and the computer. The system itself is set up to identify if you can make valid applications in the first place. If you don’t meet the minimum requirements to make an application it will simply not let you lodge one. Once your application has been lodged the computer generates the standard acknowledgment letter.

When you make an online application, fortunately the system grants you a bridging visa automatically. The computer generates the grant letter and sends it out to you, usually the next day. Since these online systems don’t involve case officers it can be expected it will keep working even if nobody’s home.

Thirdly, visa expiry dates. Make no mistake you have the responsibility to keep yourself lawful in Australia. If you don’t lodge another application for another visa before your current visa expires you will become an unlawful non citizen and then subject to possibly being detained. Trust me, something you do not want to experience.

Your visa will expire on the date it says it will expire. No human interaction here. You will not be able to make the excuse that you didn’t apply for another visa because you thought nobody was working in the Immigration Department. As long as the online system is up and running you will be able to apply for something. If its not then you must present yourself to a Immigration Department office before your visa expires and explain your circumstances. I guess if nobody’s home there and the online portal for all visas are offline, then you should try and depart Australia before the visa expiry date. If you can’t get a flight out, then find a cozy spot where there is shelter food and water and wait it out. If things have gotten that bad, nobody is really going to be looking for you or even care.

There are probably other things you could do and perhaps the department will get their act together and make a list of scenarios and what you should do if A, B or C happens. If they do, pay attention to what they say.

Medical Treatment Visa

For those who are sick at home or in hospital receiving treatment for the Coronavirus you maybe eligible to apply for the Medical Treatment visa, Subclass 602. You can use the online Form. You will need a Doctor to sign a specific form to make a valid application.

Protection Visa Application

If things are really bad and you cant get to an Immigration office and the departments online system is not working, then you could consider lodging a Protection Visa, Subclass 866, via the post. You will need to print out and fill in Form 866 and send it to the following address by post;

Onshore Protection New South Wales, Department of Home Affairs, GPO Box 9984, SYDNEY NSW 2001

Down load Form 886 on your computer for safekeeping just in case you can’t download the form later from the DOHA web site. Protection visa 886 is one of the few remaining visas whereby a valid application can be made via the mail.

Australia has protection obligations if an applicant has substantial grounds for believing that, as a necessary and foreseeable consequence of the applicant being removed from Australia to a receiving country, there is a real risk that the applicant will suffer significant harm.

There could be a reasonable argument to be made if your country is in quarantine because of the virus, you maybe exposed to significant harm if you were forced to return. Now they probably wont grant the visa later but that does not matter, for the 886 application will keep you lawful and safe in Australia for a long time.

Worried about your future in Australia? If you need professional advice or representation give us a call to book a consultation to speak one of our highly experienced migration specialists. Call +61 2 8054 2537, 0434 890 199 or book online. We also consult over the telephone and Skype via booked appointments for those interstate or overseas and for those concerned about leaving the house and catching a cold (or something worse).