Victoria latest state to help temporary migrants excluded from federal coronavirus support

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In the absence of federal assistance, states and NGOs are helping international students, asylum seekers and working visa holders

Victoria is the latest Australian state to roll out support packages for temporary migrants in Australia who face destitution as a result of Covid-19, but who are excluded from federal assistance.

In the absence of federal intervention, Tasmania, South Australia, the ACT, Queensland and Victoria have all announced support schemes to assist temporary visa holders, including international students, asylum seekers and working visa holders.

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World news | The Guardian

Victoria is the latest Australian state to roll out support packages for temporary migrants in Australia who face destitution as a result of Covid-19, but who are excluded from federal assistance.

In the absence of federal intervention, Tasmania, South Australia, the ACT, Queensland and Victoria have all announced support schemes to assist temporary visa holders, including international students, asylum seekers and working visa holders.

Victoria this week announced a relief payment of up to $1,100 as part of a broader emergency support package, available to tens of thousands of international students living in the state.

International students are a vital part of our education system, our economy and our community,” the minister for jobs, innovation and trade, Martin Pakula, said.

In Tasmania, any holder of a temporary visa can apply for relief under a $3m support package announced by the premier, Peter Gutwein.

Visa holders under financial hardship are eligible for $250, while families can apply for $1,000 in assistance.

The ACT government has rolled out cash relief packages for international students, asylum seekers and refugees.

“Over the past month we have been advocating to the federal government for people on temporary visas to be covered by jobkeeper and remain connected with work. The Australian government has refused, and as a result many Canberrans on temporary visas have now lost work and now have literally no income, and no support,” the minister for multicultural affairs, Chris Steel, said.

South Australia’s $13.8m relief package offers emergency cash grants to students, and other assistance paid through the state’s universities.

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Individual universities across the country have also committed tens of millions in direct financial support to students left stranded.

Dozens of community organisations, faith groups and diaspora bodies have also offered support of food, housing and basic services.

The Australian Homestay Network has reported more than 300 families have signed up in the past two weeks to become hosts of international students following a call-out. Its founder, David Bycroft, says Australians have a responsibility to step up and look after those left without assistance during the pandemic.

“The prime minister has told international students to return home if they can’t afford to support themselves but the reality of the situation is it isn’t that simple,” Bycroft said. “For many students, going home is not an option.”

In Australia’s largest state, Domestic Violence NSW has said the state government needs to provide a safety net for women and children living on temporary visas.

“Far too many women on temporary visas risk being injured and killed by a violent partner because their only other option is poverty and homelessness,” the group’s spokeswoman, Renata Field, said.

“DVNSW is calling on the NSW government to immediately provide income, housing and healthcare support for women and children on temporary visas experiencing domestic and family violence.”

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Jane Brock, the executive officer of Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association, said her organisation was deeply concerned about women on temporary visas experiencing violence and their children struggling to access food and essentials.

There are continued calls for the federal government to help the more than one million people currently in Australia – including international students, working holiday makers, skilled temporary migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – who are excluded from the federal government’s jobkeeper and jobseeker Covid-19 support payments.

Overrepresented in industries disproportionately affected by coronavirus shutdowns, such as hospitality and retail, and without family links to turn to or networks of community support, thousands have faced destitution: many reported skipping meals and fears they could be left homeless.

The federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, argued the government “had to draw the line somewhere”, saying that including temporary migrants would add an additional $18bn to the more than $200bn in direct assistance payments already committed.

In parliament, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said: “Australia must focus on its citizens and its residents to ensure that we can maximise the economic supports that we have.”

He said temporary visa holders should leave the country.

“As much as it’s lovely to have visitors to Australia in good times, at times like this, if you are a visitor in this country, it is time … to make your way home.”

For many this is infeasible - some countries have closed their borders, even to citizens returning, for others there are no flights, or no affordable flights, or transit countries won’t allow them through. Others have lived in Australia for years, and have established families and communities, built homes and forged careers.

For asylum seekers and refugees, having fled persecution in their homeland, any return is an impossibility.

More than 40 Catholic leaders wrote to the prime minister earlier this month, pleading for an expansion of federal assistance.

Father Peter Smith of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney argued those left out of the government’s relief payments were members of the Australian community.

“They pray in our pews, work in our restaurants, farms, factories, aged care homes, supermarkets, and NGOs, study in our schools and universities, and live in our neighbourhoods. And we have abandoned them to their fate.

“We need to look to Singapore to see what can happen when a wealthy, sophisticated nation cares only for their own citizens and tries to ignore all those in their country. This virus doesn’t recognise passport status; it devastates everyone equally.”

The director of the Migrant Workers Centre, Matt Kunkel, said state governments should not have to offer crisis payments when the federal government had the power to extend ongoing support to all workers.

“As we head into another month of this crisis, there are still hundreds of thousands of temporary visa workers who have no support, and each day brings them closer to going hungry and losing the roof over their heads. Many are already falling through the cracks and facing extreme financial hardship,” Kunkel said.

“We need a cohesive response from the Morrison government that includes everyone.”


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