The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has renewed calls for the extension of crucial support to include all people in Australia, dismayed that the COVID-19 stimulus package legislated by Parliament today excludes temporary visa holders.
The JobKeeper wage subsidy legislation extends safeguards for workers with permanent residency or Australian or New Zealand citizenship but continues to leave many people in Australia behind, including people seeking asylum, refugees on temporary visas and hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.
“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government has taken steps to provide extra support for many people who are suffering as a result,” RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said. “We applaud these initiatives and commend our political leaders for stepping up in this time of great need. However, it is now more crucial than ever that this support be extended to people in need who are on temporary visas, including many refugees and people seeking asylum.”
Many thousands of people who fall into these visa categories 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.
“With the current pandemic, this situation is growing worse by the day, as people seeking asylum and other temporary visa holders who have been working and paying taxes now find themselves with no income,” Mr Power said.
“Charities, which could not cope with the demand for emergency assistance before the pandemic, are now overwhelmed, at a time when they have to work even harder 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 their heads and stay well during this pandemic. If temporary visa holders are left in situations where they are destitute, homeless and unable to access affordable health care, there will be serious consequences for public health across Australia. We simply cannot afford to ignore the needs of temporary visa holders – nor their employers – in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From an economic perspective, we also need to ensure that employers are able to retain the staff they need to remain viable. We have heard directly from employers concerned that they have not been given any choice to retain key staff who are temporary visa holders, including refugees on Temporary Protection Visas and people seeking asylum on Bridging Visas, even if they have been employed with them for over 12 months.”
Since the Federal Government announcement on 22 March of the Coronavirus supplement for people receiving Centrelink benefits, RCOA has been lobbying and writing repeatedly to Federal Parliamentarians, urging them to include temporary visa holders in measures to protect people in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To see RCOA’s five calls to protect refugees and people seeking asylum during the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.
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