australian student visa
International students on an Australian student visa can work on farms for over 40 hours of work per fortnight. Source: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Here’s some welcome news for Australian student visa holders — international students can now work for more than the usual 40 hours a fortnight if they work in the agriculture sector. The federal government made major changes to visa conditions on Jan. 5, 2021. In a joint statement, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Aff​airs Alex Hawke and Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud said the Morrison Government is providing more flexibility to encourage temporary visa holders to support Australian farmers struggling to find workers during COVID-19. Apart from students working in the agriculture sector, the temporary relaxation of the 40-hour work limit also affects international students working in aged care and those working to support the health effort against COVID-19.

“This builds on changes earlier this year for international students working in the health and aged care sector, and demonstrates the government’s commitment to supporting Australian farmers and visa holders wishing to take on more work while they live and study here,” said Littleproud. “Many regions are expecting bumper crops this year, but with COVID-19 travel restrictions [on] international movement, there still aren’t enough workers available. This complements a range of other workforce measures we are delivering to support farmers this harvest season.”

Changes to Australian student visa to benefit students who could not go home

Hawke said the changes would not just give temporary visa holders the ability to earn more income, they would also help farmers this harvest season and avoid food going to waste. “Australians will always get priority for jobs under this government, but we’re listening to farmers who have been clear that they need many more workers, and they need them now,” he said, adding that many temporary visa holders are already in Australia, and many do not want to or cannot go home. “They will be greatly valued in the agriculture sector,” he added.

“It will also be easier for temporary visa holders to access the COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa, if they choose to work in the agriculture sector,” Hawke said. International students can apply for the COVID-19 visa up to 90 days before their existing visa runs out and they do not need to demonstrate their attempts to depart Australia. Over 5,600 COVID-19 Pandemic event visas have been granted to support the agriculture sector since they were made available in April 2020. The Department of Home Affairs said in a statement: “​Due to exceptional circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to ensure the supply of critical services, the Department of Home Affairs and Australian Border Force will take a flexible approach to student visa holders working beyond their usual work limitations, but only in specified industries.”