Tasmania became the first state to offer its 26,000 temporary visa holders a one-off support payment to help with the impacts of COVID-19 - but some say it only goes so far.
Deeshant Patel moved to Hobart in February. He was looking for a quieter life after studying in Sydney for five years.
“I really like Tasmania. I researched it and it’s a beautiful place,” he told SBS News. “The weather is so nice all year and it’s not crowded like Sydney or Melbourne. I just wanted to move to a quiet place.”
The 27-year-old, originally from India, moved to Hobart to study an advanced diploma in leadership and management at Wall Street College and found casual work doing face-to-face surveys. But in March, after only one month in the state, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Deeshant lost his work and his classes were suspended.
“In the beginning, when all this started, the situation here in Tasmania was really good, there was no coronavirus here, I was going to college and I was working as well,” he said.
Deeshant is one of the thousands of people in Australia on a student visa. As a result, he doesn’t qualify for any federal government support such as JobKeeper or JobSeeker.
In April, the Tasmanian Government announced a $3 million support package, providing one-off payments of $250, or up to $1000 for families, to temporary visa holders living in the state.
To date, 3,189 temporary visa emergency assistance grants have been given out, totalling $1,037,275. There are about 26,000 temporary visa holders living in Tasmania.
At the time of the announcement, Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said it was “only fair” that temporary migrants affected by the pandemic were supported.
"It's important we support these people who've been working in our community earning an income and this package will take the steps necessary to do that,” he said.
To qualify for the payment, applicants need to currently live in Tasmania, hold an eligible visa, and be able to demonstrate financial hardship caused by the pandemic.
The eligible visa categories are student, temporary graduate, provisional visa holder, temporary skilled, seasonal worker, Pacific Labour Scheme, bridging and humanitarian visa.
Deeshant heard about the one-off support payments through a friend and was able to qualify for a payment of $250, but he said the payment didn’t go very far.
“It was enough for one week’s rent,” he said. “I have some savings, so I’m just using my savings, and we can access our superannuation as well, so I might do that, but I don’t have much in there anyway.”
“I plan to use credit cards if I have to … so that will be helpful, but it is frustrating.”
In a statement, a Tasmanian Government spokesperson said it announced a four-step program to help as many affected temporary visa holders as possible.
“This includes extending the eligibility for Pandemic Isolation Assistance Grants, along with providing additional funding to non-government organisations to provide additional emergency relief and assistance where required,” they said.
“Additionally, for those whose country is safe to return to we will assist with travel advice, and if necessary due to genuine financial hardship we will on a case by case basis assist with financial support to do so.”
For now, Deeshant is filling the time by going for short walks, cooking and reading.
“I am staying home,” he said.
Prakash Narmeta also came to Tasmania to study from India. He’s currently in Australia on a temporary graduate visa, after finishing his masters in IT at UTAS last year.
He hasn’t applied for any government support through Centrelink, he says, because he’s found the process complicated and he’s not sure what he qualifies for.
“The graduate visa is between a student visa and permanent residency, once you finish your masters you get two years to finish and find a job and apply for permanent residency,” he said.
“I haven’t gone to Centrelink because everyone says you need permanent residency to qualify for that.”
But he did apply for the $250 payment from the Tasmanian government after speaking to SBS News, and he received it last week.
“I used it to pay for one week of rent,” he said.
Since graduating, Prakash hasn’t been able to find a job in his chosen field.
“I have applied for some Tasmanian government jobs, some IT jobs, desktop support, any IT-related jobs,” he said.
He was working as a casual, making sign advertisements, but when the pandemic took hold, he lost his job.
He didn’t qualify for the JobKeeper program because he had only been employed as a casual for about seven months. Under the JobKeeper program, casuals need to have been employed regularly for at least 12 months.
“It’s difficult to pay the rent right now,” he said.
In addition to the support payments for temporary visa holders, the Tasmanian government has also introduced a rent assistance package.
The Rental Relief Payment is a one-off payment made directly to a landlord “after they have entered into an approved temporary rent reduction arrangement with their tenant”.
Both Deeshant and Prakash were unaware of the announcement, until speaking with SBS News.
According to the Tasmanian government, more than 23 people have applied for the Rental Relief Payment, and more than 100 enquiries about the payment have been received since it was announced.
As of Thursday, Tasmania had not recorded a new case of COVID-19 for 12 days, and there are currently eight active cases in the state.
The federal government has not introduced a financial support package for temporary visa holders.
Instead, it has extended superannuation access to temporary migrants who have been in the country for longer than twelve months.
A financial hardship payment may also be available to certain visa holders under the Special Benefit scheme.
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