Thousands of temporary visa holders still in need of support as coronavirus lockdowns lift, Red Cross report reveals

A comprehensive report of temporary migrants who have accessed emergency support during the coronavirus pandemic shows many are still facing financial distress months after the pandemic began.

Temporary visa holders in Australia are still in need of financial support months after coronavirus lockdowns were introduced.

Temporary visa holders in Australia are still in need of financial support months after coronavirus lockdowns were introduced. Source: Getty

More than six months after Australia’s borders were closed due to coronavirus, thousands of temporary visa holders are still struggling to support themselves financially as lockdowns across the country are lifted.

A new report by the , which has been providing emergency relief to temporary visa holders during the pandemic, found 80 per cent of people who sought assistance between April and the end of July needed it to cover necessities such as food and medication.

The report, which attempts to collate the circumstances of temporary visa holders suffering financial hardship, detailed one instance where a man had become unwell after he was unable to afford his usual heart medication.  

More than 80,000 temporary visa holders like him have accessed emergency relief from the Red Cross so far, with more than half of them receiving assistance in the past three months.

“We still have lots of new people coming forward for assistance … that need isn’t going away as quickly as we might all hope, it’s a bit of a struggle to get back into work,” said Vicki Mau, the head of the Australian Red Cross’ migration support program.

“Even though emergency relief is traditionally a one-off payment to address someone’s urgent needs, what we’re finding is that people might be coming back or they may still be finding themselves in a situation where they need emergency relief a few months down the track.”

Ms Mau said they had received requests from help from people on all types of temporary visas and from across regional and metropolitan Australia. 

International students, the second-largest group of temporary migrants in Australia behind New Zealanders on special category visas, made up 60 per cent of recipients followed by those on bridging visas who made up 16 per cent.

Temporary visa holders, other than some special category visa holders, have been left out of ongoing government support schemes, such as the JobKeeper wage subsidy and JobSeeker coronavirus supplement. 

This is despite data from July that showed temporary visa holders were disproportionately sacked during the pandemic because

The Red Cross estimates that just over 2 million temporary visa holders remained in Australia as of 30 June, down from 2.17 million at the end of March. A number of temporary visa holders have also been barred from returning to their home country - as of August, 130 countries were restricting international arrivals from Australia.

Many people seeking assistance are “on the cusp of destitution”, the Red Cross report reads, due to rental arrears, large utility bills, “maxed out” credit cards, personal loans taken out during the pandemic and debts owed to family and friends.

An earlier between March and May found 39 per cent of respondents couldn’t afford basic living expenses, while 34 per cent were homeless or facing eviction. 

The Australian Red Cross has recommended government income support and health care concessions be extended to temporary visa holders suffering financial hardship during the pandemic.

“Emergency relief, in particular, provides a really critical way of supporting people who need to put food on the table or get essential medicine, but we do need to start looking at how we might support people who effectively might need ongoing emergency relief because … they’re unable to bring in an income,” Ms Mau said.

"As part of the move to COVID-normal, we're looking not only at how Australians are impacted, but how people in Australia are impacted and making sure that we're lifting our gaze to make sure that everyone has access to those humanitarian services."

The federal government has so far provided $13 million to go towards the Red Cross emergency relief fund, as well as allowing temporary migrants to access up to $10,000 worth of their superannuation early during the pandemic. 

All residents, including temporary migrants without access to Medicare, can also access free COVID-19 testing and treatment. 

“Temporary visa holders are also able to access relief services from other community organisations, receiving a total of $200 million in new funding,” a Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said. 

A number of states and territories have also introduced their own support measures, including an which suffered the most extreme and lengthy COVID-19 lockdown.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the federal government had provided $7 million in funding for the Red Cross emergency relief fund based on a statement from the Department of Home Affairs. The Department has since revised this figure to $13 million.

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5 min read
Published 28 October 2020 at 5:04pm
By Maani Truu