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Welfare payment to migrants is ‘investment not handout’

Harsh Athaley with his wife and daughter. Source: Supplied

Migrants and ethnic groups are voicing concerns over restricting newly-arrived migrants from Australia's welfare support.

The government wants newly arrived migrants to wait longer before they can access certain welfare payments in Australia.

Under the changes announced in the Federal Budget on Tuesday, migrants coming to Australia from 1 July 2018 will be required to live in Australia for four years before they can claim Centrelink payments, including Family Tax Benefit, paid parental leave, carers’ allowance and Newstart.

But many migrants and ethnic communities are concerned about these changes.

Indian migrant Harsh Athalye (37) who arrived in Australia in 2015 says these government payments helped his family when he and his wife were looking for work.

“Because we had this help from the government at that time, we could afford to pay for our daughter’s daycare and my wife had time to go around looking for work, attending job interviews,” Mr Athalye told SBS Punjabi.

Last week, he received a Centrelink notice, seeking to recoup some of the payments made to his family earlier. Mr Athalye- and IT professional in Melbourne- says he doesn’t grudge paying back now.

“We were given the help when we needed it. It has helped us to a position now that our contribution to the economy now far outweighs the welfare payments we received,” he says.

The peak representative body of ethnic communities in Australia, Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia says it’s disappointed at the changes announced in the Federal Budget.

“These changes will impose considerable hardship on migrants at the very time they need a little help to settle into their new home,” FECCA Chairperson Mary Patetsos said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said migrants should first work in Australia before they can draw on social security.

"They come as skilled migrants and of course they come here on the basis they are going to be employed," he told reporters on Wednesday.

"It's only right they should be working here until they become entitled to that benefit.”

Mr Athalye says the government should consider welfare payments to migrants a “good investment” in Australia’s future and not “handouts”.

The Ethnic Communities' Council of Victoria said this will have an adverse impact on many vulnerable members of the Australian community.  had in April this year called on the Australian Senate to reject the Bill seeking to lengthen the waiting period for migrants to access welfare.

“Newly-arrived residents are as vulnerable (if not more) as any other Australians to changes of circumstance such as family breakdown, loss of employment or housing insecurity. As a result, the change of the waiting period could potentially lead to extreme hardship for individuals who find themselves in unexpected situations,” the ECCV said in a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs in April. 

It called on the Australian Senate to reject the Bill seeking to increase the waiting time for migrants before they can access welfare.

A recent Australian government report reveals skilled migrants in Australia aren't dependent on welfare, add to the GDP, and have a positive flow-on effect for living standards.

"Migration improves the Commonwealth’s fiscal position, since migrants are likely to contribute more to tax revenue than they claim in social services or other government support," the Treasury and Home Affairs Department report Shaping A Nation -  Population growth and immigration over time says. 

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