New Zealanders in Australia are among those without work but many don't qualify for support


New Zealanders are one of the largest migrant groups in Australia, but it's estimated many of them are now having trouble making ends meet due to the impacts of COVID-19.

This is part of a series of reports on unemployment in Australia. 

When New Zealander Kayla Urwin lost her job at a Gold Coast hairdressers because of the COVID-19 shutdown, she faced the reality of living in Australia without a social security safety net.

What she didn't expect was the federal government to say “go home” and the social media abuse that followed.

More than 650,000 New Zealanders live in Australia. They are one of the largest migrant groups in the country and their government estimates a third of them are having trouble making ends meet during the pandemic.

Up to 220,000 New Zealanders who arrived after Australian law changed in 2001 have almost no rights to welfare if they have not lived in Australia for 10 continuous years.

They can draw on their superannuation like other residents, and if they qualify, get a one-off, up to six-months access to JobSeeker payment, or JobKeeper if their employer applies.

But despite having worked and paid tax for eight years in Australia, Ms Urwin was one who did not qualify for support after only being in her current job for four months.

Kayla Urwin
Kayla Urwin lost her hairdressing job due to COVID-19 closures.
Stefan Armbruster/SBS News

Her partner also lost his job due to the pandemic.

“We couldn’t afford food, we couldn’t afford rent, my partner has two children, it was so difficult, we could have been homeless,” she said.

She is now cutting hair from her garage in the Gold Coast suburb of Pimpama.

More than 50,000 New Zealanders call the Gold Coast home, but a large number are employed in casual industries such as tourism, retail and hospitality.

The latest ABS statistics show Queensland's unemployment jumped almost 2 points to 7.9 per cent from February to May, while nationally it was up 1.5 points to 7.1 per cent.

Payroll data indicates a 9.5 per cent drop in jobs on the Gold Coast, well above the 8.1 per cent national figure over the same period, which means tens of thousands of people are now out of work in the region.

A New Zealand government cabinet briefing paper made available to SBS News says the “diaspora [in Australia] is distinct because of its size [and] the fact that most New Zealanders have settled there permanently”. 

“Many are unable to access Australia’s main unemployment or sickness benefit. Australians in New Zealand are eligible for such benefits after a two-year stand-down period." 

“An estimated 200,000-220,000 have no access to Australian social security … the modest support they are eligible for is not likely to be adequate to cover the cost of day-to-day living during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In April, the Australian government had a simple message for New Zealanders on subclass 444 special category visas.

“New Zealanders should consider returning to New Zealand if they are unable to support themselves through these provisions, work or family support,” Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said. 

Ms Urwin has lived in Australia on-and-off for most of her life and recalls the abuse being directed at her community on social media after the minister's comments.


“I was so sad, it honestly made me cry, to be told to up and leave when we’ve considered this our home was pretty much a kick in the guts really,” she said.

“Some were saying, ‘just go home, don’t try to bludge off our government here'."

“I thought with the whole ANZACs, and the being a sister country, and we’re so close, that we really aren’t in a way.”

“It’s not so easy for some; people here have mortgages, car finances and children born here.”

Vicky Rose is the co-ordinator of the Nerang Neighbourhood Centre (NNC) on the Gold Coast. A New Zealander resident in Australia for 12 years, she advocates for the rights of others from her homeland, including access to NDIS and pathways to citizenship.

“What people need to understand is this is not a new issue for New Zealanders here, this is just another crisis that’s highlighted the inequities between Australia and New Zealand,” she said.

“We pay the same tax as everybody else and willingly, and we’re paying the NDIS levy, which we can’t access, so go figure.

Vicky Rose is the co-ordinator of the Nerang Neighbourhood Centre on the Gold Coast..
Vicky Rose is the co-ordinator of the Nerang Neighbourhood Centre on the Gold Coast..
Stefan Armbruster/SBS News

“We’re workers, our workforce participation levels are higher than Australians, we’re a motivated workforce ... People who migrate don’t do it to go on benefits, they came to do better, and to be productive members of society.”

“Reciprocity, that’s what it’s all about. It’s not asking for any more or any less than for a New Zealander in Australia, than an Australian in New Zealand.”

Every Thursday and Friday, the NNC offers discount food hampers with goods donated by local businesses or sourced from Foodbank Australia. About half of the centre’s clients are New Zealanders.

“We’ve got families who have moved in together, who are cohabitating to pool resources, and then a really big chunk who are too proud to ask for help,” she said.

“The issues we saw before COVID have only been exacerbated; unemployment, domestic violence, homelessness, mental health issues, and you can peel a lot of that back to belonging and connection.”

Ms Rose says the Australian government added insult to injury after suggesting New Zealanders return home and then lobbying for a trans-Tasman COVID-19 travel bubble.

“At one point they told us to 'go home', and now they’re saying 'come back because you make a difference to our society, our economy'," she said. 

"The government gave license to all the people who don’t like us here, to tell us to 'go home'." 

Warren Heighway has run the Kiwi Shop on the Gold Coast for 12 years.
Warren Heighway has been running the Kiwi Shop on the Gold Coast for 12 years.
Stefan Armbruster/SBS News

While many New Zealanders are doing it tough, one New Zealand business on the Gold Coast is booming.

The Kiwi Shop is stocked with food items such as Rashuns chips, Tuimato sauce and feijoa drops, as well as All Blacks merchandise and Maori cultural items. It has been business as usual in the store during the pandemic. 

“It’s because less Kiwis are able to go home and bring a bit of food back with them, or Kiwis coming here for a holiday, trade hasn’t really slowed down,” said owner Warren Heighway.

“We haven’t had to lay off anyone, we possibly have had one or two we’ve put on as part-timers.”

Hairdresser Ms Urwin has called her new business Kayla’s Kutz and the local New Zealand community has rallied around her.

“It’s opened up my eyes, I don’t want to work for anyone else, I want to work from myself and build it up from there,” she said sitting in her garage.

“It’s been great, the support and love from other people, word of mouth, building my business up, so down the track I want to open up my own salon.

“The community has been so great. Think positive guys, we’re all in this together.”

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