Australia

How coronavirus impacts Australia's visa holders and where they can get support

Adriana Urrunga is from Peru and is in Australia on a temporary visa. Source: SBS

With more than 120 visa categories in Australia, millions of people across the country are now left feeling concerned or confused about their immediate future due to the impacts of COVID-19.

Adriana Urrunga has been in Australia for seven years, and for three of those, she has worked at the KereKere garden cafe in Melbourne.

But as the 26-year-old is on a temporary visa, life amid the coronavirus outbreak now feels uncertain.

“If I lose my job I will have to go back home, which is Peru," she told SBS News. "I love being in this country but we're not having the best help at the moment.” 

Which visa holders will be impacted by coronavirus? 

Millions of various visa holders are set to be impacted by the coronavirus crisis, whether it's due to their visas running out, their loss of work, travel restrictions or not qualifying for government support.

Despite the Federal Government announcing a $130 billion package to help those struggling in Australia, people like Ms Urrunga will miss out on support if they lose their job. 

People on visitor visas, working holiday visas, studying and training visas, family and partner visas, working and skilled visas, refugee and humanitarian visas, bridging and repealed visas, and many more, may not be entitled to welfare payments. 

Seasonal workers who hold visas may lose their jobs, and won't be entitled to government financial support.

Due to the travel restrictions, many temporary workers will be in Australia illegally during the economic crisis because of a rule that forces those on temporary skills shortage visas to leave the country if they lose their job and do not find a new one within three months.

Director and Migration Agent from VISACORP Anthony Ross said: “Temporary visa holders of the 457 and 482 categories are by far most concerned group in this country because they are sponsored by Australian businesses who have had to close and therefore have stood down staff". 

“Contractually, those visa holders cannot earn any money from another employer … lawfully they are not allowed to say to themselves 'well I’ll just go get another job', because if they do then they breach their visa conditions and could have their visa cancelled.

“The Department of Immigration will have to address the concerns of these visa holders eventually … they will just have to.”

Which visa holders are allowed to travel? 

As a result of the increasing travel restrictions due to COVID-19, Australia's migration agents have been working around the clock to keep their clients informed. 

Benji Kramer from Immigration Experts Australia says it is a complex situation to navigate.

“Visa holders and potential visa applicants are confused and unsure of what will happen next, it is perfectly natural … everybody is, including migration agents and the people making the laws themselves.

“I am advising everyone to exercise caution, try to take as few risks as possible and take nothing for granted … for example, don’t do international travel.

“You’re only allowed back in certain limited situations, like if you’re a permanent visa holder you’re allowed back. If you’re a temporary visa holder that has an Australian partner or dependant on an Australian parent, there is an exemption there.”

Some workers who would like to go back to their home countries will also find it difficult to do so as airlines cut flights due to travel restrictions imposed by countries including Australia. 

What can employers do to support staff on visas? 

The Refugee Council of Australia is concerned temporary visa holders could now be at risk of financial insecurity. 

Its chief executive Paul Power is worried temporary visa holders who can't leave Australia are vulnerable to losing their homes and could struggle to access affordable healthcare if they do contract the virus. 

“The coronavirus does not discriminate on the basis of people's citizenship or visa status. Anybody living in our community is potentially at risk of contracting the virus and clearly in the interests of all of us, in the interests of public health, we must ensure that everybody in the community currently living in Australia is protected,” he said.

Visa Application

Ms Urrunga's employer at the cafe, James Murphy, has been doing what he can to ensure the cafe remains open so she and others can keep their jobs.

Like many cafe owners he has been providing takeaway coffee and has now expanded to include takeaway soup in the hopes of saving as many jobs as possible.

“Essential soup is really about giving a job to those people who have been stood down or are unemployed," he said.

"Obviously we are trying to save our own staff in the first instance, but most importantly we want to carry the spirit of hospitality and generosity,” he said.

Which of the main visa categories qualify for financial support?

  • VISITOR VISAS 

No guaranteed access to government financial support but you may also be eligible for assistance if you’re a temporary visa holder, It solely depends on what payment you apply for.

Advice: get in touch with consular support or your embassy if you desire to go home. 

  • STUDYING AND TRAINING VISAS

No guaranteed access to government financial support.

Advice: Seek support from your institution and family in your home country.

Normally an international student must not engage in work in Australia for more than 40 hours per fortnight, but in an effort to meet the high demand for essential items at major supermarkets, the Australian government announced international students employees will be able to extend their working hours. Extended hours also apply to students working in aged care and nursing. 

  • FAMILY AND PARTNER VISAS

Possible access to government financial support. You are entitled to Medicare so your health should be covered.

The government has removed the newly arrived residents waiting period for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Austudy, Parenting Payment Single and Partnered, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit. The lifting of the waiting period is already in effect. 

If you’re the primary carer of a child, you may also be eligible for some payments.

Advice: Circumstances may differ depending on your partner's conditions, so discuss further with your migration agent. 

  • WORKING AND SKILLED VISAS

No guaranteed access to government financial support.

There is also financial assistance for people helping a person with disability and there may be case-to-case exemptions as advocates continue to lobby the government for change.

Advice: get in touch with your registered migration agent or lawyer for more information.

  • REFUGEE AND HUMANITARIAN VISAS

Only if you are now a permanent resident can you qualify for access to government financial support. But there is a crisis payment option, which is a one-off payment if you are going through difficult or extreme circumstances.

  • OTHER VISAS

If you are on a temporary visa, of any kind, visit the Australian Government's Services Australia website for more information. 

What is the official government advice for visa holders now? 

  • You should apply for a new visa before your current visa expires
  • If your visa has less than 2 months validity remaining you can request to waive this condition
  • You will be given additional time to apply for a new visa once the travel restrictions are lifted
  • Exceptions/concessions can be made on a case-by-case basis. Contact your migration agent.
  • If you currently have a visa that expired and you are overseas, you need to apply for another visa (bridging visas can not be granted if you are outside Australia)
  • If you can’t access VEVO, you can still access your visa conditions online using ImmiAccount
  • BUPA VisServices and other Visa Medical Services clinics continue to operate in Australia
  • Permanent residents of Australia may return to Australia if they are currently overseas but will be required to undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine at designated facilities in their port of arrival.

Is more support expected to come for visa holders? 

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for the Federal Government to urgently extend stimulus package support to some categories of visa holders who will be left unsupported amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Everything is so confusing already … we are making sense of it and making sure that people are not left behind," a spokesperson for FECCCA said.

“These people are facing the prospect of losing their jobs and it’s not their fault, they are doing the right thing, they have come to Australia and are contributing to our economy … this is an odd anomaly and the government needs to understand we should be able to support people regardless of their visa status.”

“We have not forgotten you and we will make sure everyone in Australia is supported, not just those who have permanent residency.”

Where can visa holders go for more advice?  

These websites may provide more specific information regarding your visa circumstances or conditions:

https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/

https://www.seekvisa.com.au/

https://www.fairwork.gov.au/

http://fecca.org.au/

https://migrationcouncil.org.au/

https://acacia-au.com/

https://immiexperts.com.au/

http://visacorp.com.au/

https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/

This information was correct at the time of publication. For the latest, please see immi.homeaffairs.gov.au or contact your migration agent

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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