Hundreds of thousands of temporary visa holders in Australia could be at risk of missing out on welfare support as job losses linked to the coronavirus pandemic mount, a migration agent has warned.
- Temporary visa holders may not be eligible for financial support, a migration agent has warned
- That means potentially hundreds of thousands of students and migrant workers are in limbo
- One couple had been planning their wedding but are now facing deportation — to separate countries
The Federal Government yesterday rushed through $84 billion in financial support for workers, students and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic on Monday.
While the net has been cast wide, some of those impacted who are not Australian citizens are concerned the measures do not go far enough.
Adelaide-based migration agent Mark Glazbrook said that, in addition to more than half a million international students, there could be as many as “100,000 people on temporary visas in Australia right now”.
“There are potentially hundreds of thousands of people on temporary visas who currently miss out on these stimulus payments,” he said.
Ballarat chef Heshan Perera’s current temporary skills shortage visa had been sponsored through a licensed pub in the city since January.
He said he has no idea how he was going to survive without an income, after the establishment’s closure this week.
“We came to this country with a lot of hopes, we committed ourselves — it’s not easy to get a work permit,” he said.
The 30 year-old said he and his wife, who works as a hairdresser and holds a temporary visa, have enough savings to get through a few weeks.
“People like us, we are just looking for some kind of temporary help, temporary assistance, to survive,” he said.
“After that we can rebuild ourselves by working as we always do.”
“We like this country, we respect this country — that’s why we are here — but unfortunately to go through with our dreams we don’t have any help or access,” he said.
Engaged couple could be deported — to separate countries
Scottish chef Hamish Allison had been sponsored by the D’Arenberg Cube restaurant at McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, but he lost his job when it closed.
“The time starts ticking — I have 60 days to find a new employer,” Mr Allison said.
His 482 temporary work visa — formerly known as the 457 visa — stipulates he must work as a chef for an employer that can pay a sponsor fee and pay him a particular salary.
He said his efforts to find work since losing his job had been futile.
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“I’ve been in contact in the past 48 hours with 15 to 20 potential employers,” he said.
“I’ve already received numerous responses saying they can’t even look after their own staff, let alone think about the employment of new staff.”
Under current rules, if he cannot find work both he and his American fiancee will be deported.
“My partner depends on my visa … we would have to go back to our own countries not knowing when we’d be able to see each other again,” he said.
“If we’re not allowed to find new employment based on my sponsorship, but we’re also not allowed to travel, we’re left in a sticky situation where we’re fighting between our own health and also trying to follow the law.”
He welcomed the Federal Government’s stimulus package — which includes access to superannuation — but said changing the rules for his visa was more important.
“Having a cancelled visa against my name would be extremely detrimental to our future plans,” he said.
“We’re not asking for special treatment, we’re just asking for some understanding that this situation has been taken out of so many people’s hands.”
‘Not clear’ if students have access to payments
Mr Glazbrook, who runs migration agency Migration Solutions, said it was not clear if everyone who needed support would get it under the current rules.
“There are about 80,000 482 visa holders in Australia at the moment and they are all restricted across a range of industries,” he said.
Mr Glazbrook suggested extending time limits to allow those visa holders to find work and lifting restrictions on which industries they could work in.
While the coronavirus supplement payment has been extended to include apprentices and students on youth allowance, international students could miss out because they are not citizens.
“There are about 500,000 to 600,000 international students in Australia and many are still here and have lost work,” Mr Glazbrook said.
“Many students have also recently finished courses and are in Australia on bridging visas, having applied for a spouse visa or a regional migration visa. It’s not clear if they have access to the payments.”
Senator Anne Ruston said those on the “pathway to citizenship” would have the waiting period to access government benefits waived, bringing them into line with jobseekers across the country.
However, the situation in relation to skilled workers is less clear.
“There are a range of different visas and there are so many of them,” Senator Ruston said.
“I am currently working my way through those visa types to see what options there are available to assist those people,”
“I already have the capacity as the Minister for Social Services … to grant what we call special benefit to those people on visas that would not otherwise be eligible for Australian social security payments if they are in a time of financial hardship.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Services said jobseekers who had been receiving welfare on March 12 would be eligible for extra financial support.
“Australians receiving jobseeker payments such as Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance on March 12, 2020 are eligible for the Economic Support Payment,” the spokesperson said.
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