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International Law

Remote Work – Post Pandemic – An Immigration Lawyers Perspective

Article Author: Anne O’Donoghue

Although Covid-19 restrictions are beginning to ease around the world, many people continue to work remotely, aided by ever-improving technology. In Australia, the Families in Australia Survey: Towards COVID Normal found that among employed respondents, 67 per cent were sometimes or always working from home, compared to 42 per cent pre-Covid-19.[2]

Australia is facing major reform so that the economy can cope with this new way of working. Prior to the pandemic, the technology allowing many people to work from home existed — but very few made use of the technology. Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) data shows that, in 2019, around 8% of employees had a formal work-from-home arrangement and worked a median of one day per week from home. Overall, around 2% of total hours were worked from home. Census data from 2016 also suggests that a small proportion of workers (5%) worked from home instead of commuting on Census Day.

Several reasons can be advanced for low take-up of work-from-home arrangements prior to the pandemic. Management practices and cultural norms in workplaces, and the stigma associated with working from home, may have discouraged remote work. Firms would also have been reluctant to invest in the technology and related systems for large-scale working from home, given the uncertainty about its benefits.[1]

This is a particular concern for those working with visas, as Australia is home to over 1 million temporary visa holders.  Since remote work came into play, a major portion of temporary Australian visa holders were made redundant in casual industries such as hospitality and retail. In many situations, these Australian visa holders lost their income stream and in turn, could not provide financial support for family overseas who were also experiencing hardship. In many situations, remaining in Australia created compliance issues for various visa subclasses, particularly through employer-sponsored visas. As a result, workers quickly returned to their home country where possible.”[2] This trend has been well observed across the Australian economy.

Even though there may be downsides to remote work, some may say the benefits far outweighs the disadvantages. Remote work in the legal sector provides a plethora of benefits to both firms and clients alike. Immigration firms and agencies alike deal with people from different cultures, languages, and religions. Immigration lawyers routinely work with high-pressure and emotional cases and need to make sure that clients feel comfortable so that it is possible to discuss their personal life, their visa situation, and all other relevant considerations without hesitation.  Accurate and effective professional work without miscommunication is an imperative. Although many think that in-person meetings are effective, which at times they may be, the ability to have meetings in an instant, via ZOOM, is practical in many aspects of immigration work.

A way forward for immigration firms and practices is to ensure a valid fixation on IT and security systems alike. These logistical components are essentially what makes working from home possible. One needs to ensure that logistical components adequately consider any impact on workflows and clearance processes that might increase workload and time pressures. For example, where the progress of work is slowed and deadlines are compressed, the suitability of the home environment for the type of work being undertaken must be considered (e.g., the need for a quiet environment or IT requirements).  VPN connectivity must remain stable and cyber security systems and insurances up to date so that confidential information and work processes are not disrupted, impacting on visa deadlines.

For the productivity and wellbeing of immigration professionals, remote work has found a permanent place in the way we view work obligations and life balances.

This topic was discussed at the International Bar Associations Miami Conference and was extremely well received.



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