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Community health at risk if temporary visa holders left unprotected

Australia cannot afford to ignore the needs of temporary visa holders in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) says.

While welcoming the Federal Government’s announcement of the new JobKeeper payment, RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power expressed dismay that most temporary visa holders would be excluded from support.

“From a public health perspective, we need to ensure that everyone living in our community has the means to remain well and maintain physical distance while the threat of COVID-19 remains,” Mr Power said. “Ignoring some in our community because they lack permanent visa status make no sense at all – and heightens the risk for everyone.

“Australia is hosting many temporary visa holders who have nowhere to go now that most national borders have closed. If they are left in situations where they are destitute, homeless and unable to access affordable health care, there will be serious consequences for the health of the entire community.

“We welcome the fact that Australian citizens and permanent residents and temporary visa holders from New Zealand will be able to keep otherwise vulnerable jobs as a result of the JobKeeper payment. However, the Federal Government cannot ignore the fact that many other temporary visa holders have already lost their jobs and many more are in positions which are highly vulnerable.

“Most temporary visa holders in Australia, including the majority of people seeking asylum, have no form of financial safety net to rely on if they have no work. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia had a serious and growing problem of destitution among Bridging Visa holders denied access to support under cuts made over the past two years to the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program.

“This situation is growing worse by the day as people seeking asylum and other temporary visa holders lose their only form of income. Charities, who could not cope with the demand before the pandemic, are now overwhelmed, at a time when they are struggling to maintain frontline services because of the spread of COVID-19.

“This virus does not discriminate on the basis of citizenship or visa status. We must act to ensure the protection of all people currently living in Australia. This must include ensuring that everyone now in Australia has the means to survive, maintain a roof over the head and stay well during this pandemic.”

Media enquiries: Laura Stacey 0488 035 535

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