The Australian government has announced changes to its coronavirus support measures but those on temporary visas still won’t qualify, with advocates warning many are facing destitution.
But the federal government has confirmed eligibility rules for the programs will remain unchanged, meaning an estimated 1.1 million temporary visa holders still won’t be able to access the support.
Brisbane-based Angelo Di Franco is a dental technician who was one of the tens of thousands of people forced out of work at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Italian 482 skill shortage visa holder was told by his employer he no longer had a position for him because of his ineligibility for the JobKeeper program.
“Anyone who came here to this country just to work and give their support, they should have the same treatment as everyone,” Mr Di Franco told SBS News. “I can’t understand why the government treats us in this way, there’s no excuse … we are in the country, in the same boat, so why this discrimination?”
Mr Di Franco has been living in Queensland with his wife and seven-year-old daughter for three years and has a master’s degree. But the 50-year-old said he is now facing a decision on whether to leave the country, which has left him worried about the future for himself and his family. “I’m very, very disappointed during this period,” he said.
JobKeeper will be extended until March next year, while JobSeeker will be boosted by additional coronavirus supplement payments until December. The decision is a recognition that millions are still grappling with the fallout from the pandemic and remain in need of assistance. But the continued exclusion of temporary visa holders has disappointed migrant advocates, who have been pushing for the government to extend its support for months.
The Migrant Workers Centre’s director Matt Kunkel said their fears many migrants could face destitution had been realised with community groups seeing a surge in temporary visa holders requiring support. “This government seems intent on forcing temporary visa holders into poverty,” he said. “We’ve seen international students lining up around the block for food – we’ve got hundreds of people coming to our centre just trying to find a way of making ends meet.”
The federal government has told temporary visa holders who can no longer support themselves financially to strongly consider returning to their home country. In April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia must focus on its citizens and residents to maximise economic supports. The government had made a concession allowing temporary visa holders to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation until 1 July, which has now ended. In some cases, they can also apply for a financial hardship payment under the Special Benefit scheme.
Mr Kunkel said the government had ignored the fact temporary visa holders were among those still doing it tough amid the pressures of the pandemic. “This government has continually made decisions at every step of this response of this pandemic to cut them out of any sort of support at all,” he said. “Without further support from the federal government to provide income support for all this is a crisis that will only continue to deepen.”
A Treasury review of the JobKeeper program found the scheme had met its aim of saving jobs and businesses and protecting livelihoods. Around 3.5 million workers have received wage subsidies designed to keep employees linked to employers during the pandemic. But Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told reporters the design of JobKeeper had resulted in problems with its rollout.
“So many low-income Australians were getting nothing at all, casual employees, people on visas,” he said. Extending the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs at reduced rates beyond 27 September means the support is now estimated to cost almost $103 billion. At least 1.6 million Australians have already received JobSeeker payments.
Mr Morrison said Australians understood the programs must be targeted and temporary measures. “They know a current scheme that is burning cash, their cash, taxpayers’ cash to the tune of some $11 billion a month cannot go on forever.” “They’re not enduring, they cannot be permanent, they were never designed to be.