Special welfare payments and visa extensions to non-residents stranded in Australia

From the Australian Newspaper:

Special welfare payments and visa extensions will be offered to non-residents stranded in Australiawho lose their jobs and are unable to return home.

The Australian understands the Morrison government is working on a plan that includes a form of support payment for temporary migrants who stand to lose their jobs in industries such as tourism and hospitality that face being decimated by the shutdown.

While Australian workers will come first, the government will seek to place highly skilled temporary migrants — without a method to return to their country of citizenship — into high-­demand areas, including regions.

The Australian understands that welfare assistance may be available to temporary visa holders if they face significant financial hardship under the Special Benefit payment and the coronavirus supplement of $550.

Holders of temporary visas, including partner visas and temporary humanitarian visas, may also be eligible for the Special Benefit.

While there are an estimated 1.5 million people on temporary visas without access to government services, only some visa holders who experience hardship would be eligible.

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said while the government would give Australians priority, it was also working to help temporary residents who would suffer hardship while stranded in Australia. “This is an unprecedented crisis, and we know that thousands of Australians will find themselves without work due to industries shutting down,” he said. “Obviously they should be given priority by businesses that are able to continue to hire people. Our focus is on keeping Australians in jobs as we battle the ­impacts of the coronavirus.

“We also know there is a number of temporary visa holders in Australia who are unable to return home or who have skills that will be in high demand during this crisis, including in health, aged care, agriculture and other essential ­services. We are focused on this and have been working with industry to provide more flexibility in relation to visas and conditions. The aim is to ensure businesses can continue to operate and temporary migrants can continue to support themselves, and help Australia, during this crisis.”

With the exception of people on a protected Special Category visa (who arrived before February 2001), no temporary or provisional visa holder in Australia has access to standard welfare support, such as income and disability support programs.

Migration Council Australia chief executive Carla Wilshire welcomed the government’s move to also assist temporary migrants who had no access to the welfare system. “The government should be commended for the steps taken to date to open up work options for students and to consider the needs of temporary migrants,” she said.

“However, as the full economic and social impact of COVID-19 unfolds, we need to start thinking about safeguards across all visa categories. We need to think about everyone who remains in our borders and we need to move quickly to look to ensure all people have a basic safety net — whether they are citizens, permanent residents or people on temporary or bridging visas.

“There is a need to grant an extension of six-12 months across all temporary visa categories to ensure people have a sense of security. People should not be worrying about whether they will become unlawful. There should also be emergency support and basic income payments made available for the many temporary visa holders that will lose their livelihoods.

“We might also need to look at the provision of temporary Medicare access to people on temporary visas who don’t currently have it as health insurance is often time- limited and some policies do not cover pandemics.”

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