RLC in the Media: 'I could be on the street': Emerging underclass of jobless temporary residents

Sydney Morning Herald investigates the impact of the coronavirus on already marginalised communities, speaking to international students, migrant workers and services providers.

Anna Patty reports for Sydney Morning Herald

The federal government has introduced a "special benefit" payment for people not eligible for other forms of welfare, but is under pressure to expand assistance for foreigners trapped in the country.

A spokeswoman for Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the government was looking at further measures.

While temporary stand downs and redundancies affect all employees in a negative way,, the Redfern Legal Cenre (RLC) said stand downs and redundancies had a disproportionately negative effect on international students and migrant workers.

“RLC is seeing an influx of clients on temporary visas, who have been left stranded in Australia with no access to work, no access to welfare benefits and no way to return home in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis,” an RLC spokesman said.

“For some migrant workers sponsored by employers, their visa conditions prevent them from accessing employment with other employers at this time, even if they have been stood down without an income. This may be disastrous for many temporary visa holders with limited support networks."

One client from New Zealand on a special category visa who had been stood down indefinitely was not able to meet requirements for Centrelink benefits despite having lived in Australia for six years.

Matt Kunkel, the director of the Migrant Workers Centre in Melbourne, said his organisation has seen temporary visa holders in financial distress, despite being taxpayers. He said jobless migrants in dire financial hardship needed welfare support to avoid becoming homeless and contributing to a public health crisis.

"There are literally people begging for food on Facebook because there is little option," he said. "One person came in and said they had no money, no food in the cupboard and can't pay the rent. It has hit our migrant communities harder because they don't have access to our social safety net."

Giada Bonadei Romero, a 28-year-old international student from Spain, has been Australia for two years but lost her waitressing job at Sydney restaurant two weeks ago.

"I am not thinking about university fees, I am thinking about survival, not being homeless and getting food," she said.

"I have been trying all week to get assistance and told I cannot get any benefit as an international student. My family in Spain and Italy cannot help me economically because they are in a worse situation than me."

The United Workers Union has called for a jobs guarantee or emergency income for every Australian resident. President Jo Schofield said financial support and access to Medicare should be extended to all temporary visa holders.

"Every person irrespective of their citizenship or visa status must be supported through this crisis," she said. "We have members across our industries - including farms, hospitality and cleaning, who are confused about their entitlements and are panic-stricken of facing homelessness with no access to Medicare or other government support."

Read the full article here (Sydney Morning Herald, 29 March 2020)