Earlier this month the Australian government announced new visa arrangements for Hong Kong Citizens. The government has not yet introduced any specific visa class for Hong Kong citizens, rather they have altered existing migration programs to provide extra incentives and less onerous requirements for visas to be granted to Hong Kong citizens.
The primary changes so far concern the student visa, temporary graduate visa, temporary work visas and business and innovation visas.
Under the new arrangement Hong Kong students can access a 5 year 485 visa (temporary graduate visa) at the end of their studies, with a pathway to permanent residency (however the government has not yet given details of the permanent residency and what English language and occupational requirements may apply).
The government has stated that they are once again taking applications for student visas. They are not allowing the applicants into the country until the travel ban is lifted however applications can be made. However, there is provision for a temporary resident who is an EX A student visa holder to apply for an exemption to travel to Australia.
The government has also opened education to foreigner citizens with no visa. Meaning that they will allow people to study courses provided by Australian Universities online from their home country with no visa.
Given these changes it would seem possible that a person in Hong Kong could enrol in a course of study in Australia, and on that basis apply for a student visa. Once the student visa is granted, the person could request an exemption to travel to Australia on the basis that they are not safe in Hong Kong due to the current political circumstances.
The other major change is to temporary skilled visas (eg. 482, 494 etc..). For these visas the government has made substantially the same concessions. Current work visa holders will be eligible for a 5-year extension to their current work visa and will be eligible for permanent residency at the end of that period. Some occupational and labour market requirements will still need to be met.
There has also been changes to business and innovation and global talent migration programs however to date the changes are still vague and it is not clear what the exact benefits will be for HK citizens. There will be significant benefits offered where a HK business seeks to relocate to Australia and bring critical staff with the business.
The government has not made a specific refugee visa for HK citizens and has stated that this is because “we already have a humanitarian visa in place” and “we decided on deliberately targeting serious talent which is in Hong Kong, and businesses which have their regional headquarters in Hong Kong.” Notwithstanding no specific safe haven visa being introduced for HK citizens this does not mean that HK citizens will not be able to make refugee claims based upon their specific circumstances.