HUNDREDS of overseas workers could be welcomed to Australia in the next 10 months, under travel exemptions for holders of a government visa created to aid the post-pandemic recovery — even as tens of thousands of its own citizens remain stranded overseas.

The exemption will streamline entry requirements to allow the rapid relocation of workers critical to establishing a business in Australia. Fewer than 500 exemptions are expected to be granted to holders of the temporary Activity (subclass 408) “Post COVID-19 Economic Recovery Event” visas during the next 10 months, before the program is designed to expire.

“This government’s initiatives to bring top talent to Australia are cementing our economic recovery,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said in an emailed statement. “Returning Australians remain the priority, however this automatic travel exemption recognizes the importance of significant investment.”

At the start of the pandemic in March 2021, Australia implemented a ban on non-citizens and non-residents from entering the nation that’s exacerbated skills shortages in some key industries and services. Strict caps have also been placed on its own citizens; as of late July, some 38,000 Australians were still stranded abroad.

The measures, some of the strictest in the world, earned the country the nickname “Fortress Australia.” In recent months, the government cut international arrivals by 50% and barred non-resident citizens who enter the country from leaving again to reduce pressure on a quarantine system that’s being tested by the Delta variant.

That strain seeded itself in Sydney in mid-June; now around half the nation’s population of 26 million people are in lockdown as authorities seek stem an outbreak that’s infecting more than 1,500 people a day. New South Wales, the most-populous state, is seeking to start remove lockdown restrictions and start allowing international travel again later this year when vaccination thresholds are reached.

The government’s automatic exemption for skilled non-Australians will be restricted to businesses deemed by the Global Business and Attraction Taskforce as likely to make a significant contribution to economy, including investment value and job creation potential. Arrivals will still need to meet all standard health requirements and quarantine protocols, as administered by states and territories.

“These visa holders are bringing the skills, investment, and new ideas that employ Australians and keep us internationally competitive for years to come,” Ms. Andrews said in the statement. “They’re adding to our economy, generating new jobs, and contributing to our tax base so we can continue to provide the essential services all Australians rely on.” — Bloomberg