Australia's migrant workers face serious financial hardship during coronavirus crisis

Mutual obligation requirements for welfare recipients, such as job interviews, have been suspended again until June 1. Source: AAP

A survey of migrant workers in Australia has revealed the precarious financial situation faced by many temporary visa holders during the coronavirus crisis.

A new survey has uncovered serious concerns for migrant workers during the coronavirus outbreak, revealing only 50 per cent have enough savings to last the next two weeks.

The study of more than 200 migrant workers also found more than half have lost full-time jobs as a result of the pandemic, while 79 per cent admitted they will struggle to cover the cost of rent in the short term.

Superannuation firm Zuper commissioned the study. 

More than two million temporary visa holders in Australia have been left without financial support as they are ineligible for the government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy program or the JobKeeper welfare payment.

Temporary visa holders face significant financial hardship during the coronavirus crisis.
Temporary visa holders face significant financial hardship during the coronavirus crisis.
AAP

Many are unable to travel home and have to remain in Australia despite losing their job or being unable to complete their studies.

University of Sydney global migration expert, associate professor Anna Boucher, said the lack of support for temporary visa holders demonstrated the inequality faced by migrant workers in Australia.

“This is a big problem and there is a long list of other issues which could result such as increased homelessness and pressure on charities,” she said.

“Some young women have been pressured into sex work because they feel that is the only employment they can get in the current climate.

“The federal government has predicted the unemployment rate during this crisis could hit 10 per cent but among migrants, it could be as much as 30 to 40 per cent.”

Earlier this month, acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge released a statement that encouraged temporary visa holders to return to their home country if they were unable to support themselves through the coronavirus crisis.

Migrants, as well as international students who have lived in Australia for more than a year, have also been given access to up to $10,000 of their superannuation.

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has told temporary migrants to contact the government if they have concerns.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has told temporary migrants to contact the government if they have concerns.
AAP

Carina Garland of the Victoria Trades Hall council hit out at the policy and said “the federal government had a responsibility to ensure people are not destitute at this time”.

“These workers on visas may end up living and working in Australia for the rest of their lives but have no retirement nest egg because they had to take it all out to pay rent and put food on the table.”

Migrant workers were given a small ray of hope on Wednesday when Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein announced a $3 million relief package for the state’s 26,000 temporary visa holders.

One-off payments of $250 for visa holders suffering from financial hardship as well as payments of up to $1,000 for families are set to be rolled out.

Ms Garland said the payments were a positive step but a long-term fix such as expanding the eligibility of JobKeeper and JobSeeker to include temporary visa holders was needed.

"There is absolutely no safety net for any workers on a temporary visa and these vital workers who are on the frontline every day," she said.

"There is a growing community push from union, church and charity organisations for increased support for migrants so hopefully that is enough to change the mind of the decision-makers in Canberra."

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