Australian student visa
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has fuelled labour shortages across several sectors in Australia. Source: William West/AFP

Eligible Australian student visa holders may be able to work up to 80 hours a fortnight under a temporary relaxation of visa rules.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has fuelled labour shortages across several sectors in Australia, prompting the 40-hour-a-fortnight cap lift in sectors affected by the pandemic, under a plan Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will take to state and territory leaders at a national cabinet meeting on Thursday, reported  the Australian Financial Review.

Traditionally, international students in Australia have a 20-hour-per-week limit when school is in session.

Businesses had been trying to hire almost 400,000 workers to fill vacant positions even before Omicron fuelled labour shortages. Sectors including home builders were unable to work on-site due to close contact with a virus-infected person or contracting COVID-19 themselves, said the report. 

There are over 100,000 estimated new daily COVID-19 cases in Australia. Morrison said until the virus wave peaked, it would inevitably hit supply chains and the workforce. “The goal is to get as many people as safely at work in these critical sectors that keep Australia moving,” he was quoted saying.

Australian student visa

International students in Australia often work in convenience stores, supermarkets and food and beverage sectors. Source: William West/AFP

Australian student visa holders could fill worker shortages in sectors affected by Omicron

Business groups have reportedly pressed government ministers to increase the cap on the permitted working hours of international students. The government has agreed to a proposal to increase the 40-hour a fortnight cap for foreign students while they are studying, with it likely to be doubled to 80 hours a fortnight or 40 hours a week, said the report.

Australian student visa holders have previously benefited from temporary relaxation of working hours. Last July, the Morrison government allowed supermarkets in states and territories subject to COVID-19 lockdowns to employ international students in excess of the 40 hours per fortnight cap to help businesses remain open and to help supermarkets meet the high customer demand for critical goods. 

Australian student visa holders were also able to work more than 40 hours a fortnight in aged care due to increase in staffing pressures across the sector. “Many aged care workers, nurses and other staff have been working at a higher intensity during the pandemic. All Australians are thankful for their efforts, and the Australian government is working to ease that pressure,” said Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt.

Fuel stations and convenience stores such as 7-Eleven often employ international students to work part-time and late-night shifts. Australia reopened its borders to international students from Dec. 15, 2021.