Europe

Calls for Australia to follow Portugal and treat migrants as residents during coronavirus crisis

COVID-19 smart screening center in Lisbon, Portugal. Source: LUSA

A refugee advocacy group has called on Australia to adopt Portugal’s pioneering approach to supporting migrants during the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia is being called on to closely consider Portugal's approach to supporting migrants during the coronavirus outbreak.

The European nation has decided migrants will be treated as permanent residents until at least 1 July to ensure they have access to public services.

Refugee Council of Australia Chief Executive Paul Power told SBS News the model recognises the pressing needs of temporary migrants amid the health crisis.

“During the life of this pandemic the situation has changed,” he said.  

“We all know that the virus doesn’t discriminate on the basis of people’s citizenship or permanent residency or the nature of their visa.”

Under the Portuguese model, applicants, including asylum seekers, would only need to provide evidence of an ongoing request to qualify for public services. 

This means they would be granted access to the national health service, welfare benefits, bank accounts and work and rental contracts. 

Portugal's Internal Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Claudia Velosa told Reuters migrants should not be deprived of their rights in the pandemic.

“In these exceptional times, the rights of migrants must be guaranteed,” she said.  

But in Australia, concerns have been raised that more than 1.1 million temporary workers could be ineligible for almost all welfare measures. 

This group includes international students, working holidaymakers, as well as those on bridging, temporary protection and safe haven visas. 

With the exemption of some New Zealand nationals, temporary migrants have been excluded from most coronavirus welfare assistance responses.

This includes a JobSeeker payment of $1,100 per fortnight, which features a $550 coronavirus supplement.

They were also exempt from the new JobKeeper wage subsidy of $1,500 per fortnight worth some $130 billion.

The Portuguese government has declared a state of emergency across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Portuguese government has declared a state of emergency across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sipa USA Henrique Casinhas / SOPA Images/

The Federal Government has said a Special Benefit payment may be available for some temporary visa holders who face significant financial hardship.

This would include the $550 coronavirus supplement, as part of new safety net support measures. 

Mr Power said many temporary visa holders in Australia had been among the first to lose their jobs in industries that had been worst impacted by virus restrictions.

“At the moment the vast majority of those people have no access to any form of safety net,” he said.

“We have many thousands of people living within our community who a month ago were able to support themselves ... who now have no income.”

Portugal is being praised for its world leading approach to supporting migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Portugal is being praised for its world leading approach to supporting migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
LUSA

Another concern is that international travel restrictions mean some migrants are at risk of being stranded as their visas expire. 

The Department of Home Affairs says it will consider individual visa extension applications, so as long they are filed before their visa deadline. 

In the United Kingdom, all foreign nations stuck in the country have been told they will be able to apply for special visa extensions lasting until 31 May. 

Mr Power said the “extraordinary times” presented by the pandemic call for unprecedented measures - like those being adopted in Portugal.

“The reality is that international travel has almost completely ground to a halt,” he said. 

“It requires a complete rethinking of how Australia and how countries provide a basic level of support to their citizens (and) how they treat foreign nationals.” 

With Reuters 

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