Calls for JobKeeper wage subsidy to cover temporary visa holders

Arian Rezaei's family business has shutdown due to the coronavirus crisis. Source: Supplied

There are calls for the Federal Government to include temporary visa holders in the new “JobKeeper” wage subsidy program.

For almost five years Arian Rezaei and his two brothers spent day and night establishing the Ayla Café in Adelaide’s central business district. Now due to coronavirus all that hard work has come to nothing.

“We spent all of our money investing in the business, then suddenly one day all of it was gone. It was heartbreaking, seeing the business not working anymore. We spent lots of time building it up from scratch and now its gone,” the 28 year old told SBS News.

Originally from Iran, Mr Rezaei and his family are on a subclass 790 Safe Haven Enterprise visa for refugees, which means they are among the more than one million temporary visa holders who will miss out on the government’s “JobKeeper” wage subsidy.

The government’s $130 billion wage subsidy announced on Monday, provides a flat $1,500-per-fortnight payment to be paid to businesses to pay to employees who would otherwise be stood down due to the COVID-19 economic downturn.

The wage subsidy does include New Zealanders who are ineligible for Centrelink payments, but other temporary visa holders in Australia like Mr Rezaei are excluded.

“My life is impacted, me and my family, three of us we were sourcing money from the business, we have lost our jobs. It makes it very hard for us to go through it at this time,” Mr Rezaei said.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia on Tuesday called for the governments subsidy to also extend to temporary visa holders.

“We absolutely applaud the Federal Government for announcing this package and for listening to our concerns and extending it to New Zealanders working in Australia,” FECCA CEO Mohammad Al-Khafaj said. 

“However, this package should also provide some certainty to other temporary visa holders working in this country, regardless of their visa status. This is a relatively small cohort of people working in Australia who have contributed so much to our communities and to the economy,” he added.

Creating an underclass

Matt Kunkel, director of the Melbourne-based Migrant Workers Centre, called on the government to urgently make changes to the announced package.

“Scott Morrison is creating an underclass of workers during a global pandemic, who will be left without a roof over their heads and limited access to healthcare. This spells disaster as we face the worst of COVID-19,” Mr Kunkel said.

“There is no reason for Scott Morrison to lock temporary visa holders, who are doing the same work at the same businesses, out of this support system."

There have been lines at Centrelink for two days.
Temporary visa holders are not eligible for the government's new 'JobKeeper' wage subsidy.

Asked on Monday if any other exemptions would be made so temporary visa holders would be covered by the wage subsidy, Mr Morrison said "the short answer to that is no", but the matter was being given further consideration.

Explaining the decision to grant access to Kiwis on section 444 visas, who are otherwise excluded from Australia's welfare system, Mr Morrison said many of them have made a life in the country. 

"They're connected to businesses here, they have commitments here and they own properties and they rent properties and they're part of an ongoing economy in Australia.

"And so we're about keeping them part of that economy because they're part of what happens on the other side."

SBS News has contacted Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's office for a response.


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