Many temporary Australian residents will be excluded from the JobSeeker Payment and Coronavirus Supplement to be provided to permanent residents. In this open letter to the prime minister, 40 leading Australian experts on public policy argue this is in no-one’s interests.
Dear Mr Morrison,
The Australian government has achieved a great deal with its far-reaching responses to the risks to the Australian people and the economy as a result of the Covid19 pandemic.
The temporary increases to social security benefits through the introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement and the introduction of the JobKeeper Payment have done much to boost public confidence as Australia along with the rest of the world faces the most challenging economic environment in 100 years.
The combination of these two payments should provide a robust safety net for those who qualify for one or other of the payments.
However, there is a serious gap in the government’s response that needs to be filled as soon as possible. This is the situation facing temporary visa holders in the workforce who are not currently eligible to access the COVID-19 crisis measures.
On April 4, the acting minister for immigration announced announced that most temporary visa holders with work rights will now be able to access their Australian superannuation to help support themselves during the crisis, but that others would be encouraged to return to their home country.
The Minister’s Statement sets out the scale of this issue:
there are 2.17 million people presently in Australia on a temporary visa
of these, there are more than 672,000 New Zealanders in Australia on a subclass 444 visa
there are 565,000 international students in Australia, mainly studying in the higher education or vocational education sector
There are around 139,000 temporary skilled visa holders, on either a 2 year or 4 year visa
There are about 118,000 people in Australia on a Working Holiday visa (or backpacker visa)
There are another 185,000 other temporary visa holders in Australia, about half of them temporary graduate visa holders
The minister has acknowledged the crucial role that these temporary visa holders play in the Australian economy.
For example, his statement points out that international students “are an important contributor to our tertiary sector and economy, supporting 240,000 Australian jobs.”AAP
Many of those on working holiday visas are working in “the critical sectors of heath, aged and disability care, agriculture and food processing, and childcare”.
Temporary skilled visa holders “were provided the visa to fill a skills shortage – a shortage that may still be present when the crisis has passed”.
Also on April 4, a joint statement from the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Immigration announced temporary changes to visa arrangements to help farmers access the workforce they need to secure Australia’s food and produce supply during COVID-19.
Pointing out that “these visa holders fill a critical workforce gap in this sector,” the government announced that, before moving to other parts of the country, working holiday makers will need to self-isolate for 14 days.
The JobKeeper and the JobSeeker Payments will cover some temporary visa holders, but not all.
For example, it appears that New Zealanders in Australia will be eligible for the JobKeeper Payment, but only if they have been with the same employer for 12 months or more. They will only be entitled to the JobSeeker Payment and the Coronavirus Supplement if they have been in Australia for 10 years or more.
Non-New Zealanders will have only their super to rely on (which may have plummeted in value), a wholly inadequate solution.
The government has already made the very positive move of extending access to social security benefits to permanent residents who previously were not eligible for many payments for up to four years.
Refusing income support to temporary migrants who lose their jobs poses risks to public health and their own welfare, will create shortages of workers in vital sectors now and when the economy restarts, and breach Australia’s global responsibilities.
These workers have all been making valuable contributions to the Australian economy.
Many will not be able to, and should not have to, return “home”.
If temporary migrants find themselves without income and unlawfully resident here, Australia will face a humanitarian crisis and an even worse health situation for us all.
Such migrants may be made homeless or will be forced to live in crowded situations and may be forced into illegal work.
The minister for families and social services has wide-ranging discretionary powers to make regulations to achieve this, but the sitting of parliament this week provides the opportunity for the government to make a firm commitment to fill this gap in their response to this unprecedented crisis.
- ^ Coronavirus Supplement (treasury.gov.au)
- ^ JobKeeper Payment (treasury.gov.au)
- ^ superannuation (minister.homeaffairs.gov.au)
- ^ temporary changes (minister.homeaffairs.gov.au)
- ^ New Zealanders in Australia (treasury.gov.au)
- ^ Coronavirus supplement: your guide to the Australian payments that will go to the extra million on welfare (theconversation.com)
- ^ Why closing our borders to foreign workers could see fruit and vegetable prices spike (theconversation.com)
- ^ JobSeeker Payment and the Coronavirus Supplement (treasury.gov.au)
- ^ Associate Professor Laurie Berg (www.uts.edu.au)
- ^ Professor Sharon Bessel (www.linkedin.com)
- ^ Associate Professor Anna Boucher (theconversation.com)
- ^ Associate Professor Bruce Bradbury (theconversation.com)
- ^ Dr Stephen Clibborn (theconversation.com)
- ^ Professor Jock Collins (theconversation.com)
- ^ Professor Rae Cooper (theconversation.com)
- ^ Professor Jean-Philippe Deranty (theconversation.com)
- ^ Dr Norbert Ebert (www.linkedin.com)
- ^ Associate Professor Bassina Farbenblum (www.law.unsw.edu.au)
- ^ Professor Karen R Fisher (theconversation.com)
- ^ Professor Susan Goodwin (www.sydney.edu.au)
- ^ Professor Matthew Gray (theconversation.com)
- ^ Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis (www.sydney.edu.au)
- ^ Dr Nicholas Harrigan (researchers.mq.edu.au)
- ^ Professor Paul Henman (theconversation.com)
- ^ Associate Professor in Law Joanna Howe (theconversation.com)
- ^ Dr Evan Jones (theconversation.com)
- ^ Peter Mares (theconversation.com)
- ^ Professor Greg Marston (theconversation.com)
- ^ Professor Gabrielle Meagher (researchers.mq.edu.au)
- ^ Professor Alan Morris (theconversation.com)
- ^ Associate Professor Gaby Ramia (www.sydney.edu.au)
- ^ Professor Alex Reilly (theconversation.com)
- ^ Associate Professor Shanthi Robertson (theconversation.com)
- ^ Professor Nicholas Smith (theconversation.com)
- ^ Dr Ben Spies-Butcher (theconversation.com)
- ^ Dr. Adam Stebbing (researchers.mq.edu.au)
- ^ Professor Miranda Stewart (theconversation.com)
- ^ Professor Joo-Cheong Tham (theconversation.com)
- ^ Scientia Professor Carla Treloar (theconversation.com)
- ^ Associate Professor kylie valentine (research.unsw.edu.au)
- ^ Associate Professor Diane Van Den Broek (theconversation.com)
- ^ Associate Professor Selvaraj Velayutham (theconversation.com)
- ^ Professor Ariadne Vromen (theconversation.com)
- ^ Professor Peter Whiteford (theconversation.com)
- ^ Associate Professor Shaun Wilson (researchers.mq.edu.au)
- ^ Professor Amanda Wise (theconversation.com)
- ^ Associate Professor Chris F Wright (theconversation.com)
- ^ Associate Professor Kyoung-Hee Yu (theconversation.com)
Authors: Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University