Skilled migrants who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus will need the help of the community to get through, NTDC population attraction coordinator Edward Obi said.
Migrants in Tasmania pay tax, but they are not eligible for Centrelink or the federal government’s new $1500 fortnightly Jobkeeper wage subsidy that would allow them to stay employed.
There are over one million temporary visa holders nationwide and many have lost their jobs due Covid-19. They are now facing the prospect of trying to stay afloat with no government support.
Mr Obi said it would be up to the Launceston community to stand by its international members and fill the gap until the economy restarts.
“For instance, the University of Tasmania should support its students that need support,” he said.
“Employers should support the employees they’ve stood down. Landlords should waive rent for migrant tenants who can not pay rent. The community is going to be the only solution.”
Amal Rawanaka is a casual IT worker who expects to have his hours reduced. He is also an Uber driver, but work has dried up with no tourists, events, or nightlife.
He said he plans to access his superannuation to have enough money to make it through the Covid-19 shutdown period, which the government has made legal for temporary visa holders to do.
Mr Ranawaka is no longer on a working visa because his permanent residency is in the process of being completed, and he is not sure where he stands.
“At the moment it’s OK [in terms of work hours], but that could change in two or three weeks,” he said. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be cut down.
“I spoke to my accountant because I heard that you can get the superannuation, but it’s so uncertain. He’s not 100 per cent sure how this process is going to happen.
“So I need to find out what is my eligibility. I don’t really understand myself.”
A Tasmanian group called 489 Visa Holders & 887 Visa Applicants has sent an open letter calling on the government to expand the support offered during the Covid-19 crisis to temporary visa holders.
“We need help from the government to survive same as other Australian citizens and residents,” the letter said.
“We are paying taxes, just like citizens and permanent residents. We have satisfied conditions of our provisional visa, i.e. settled and worked full time in regional areas. We have done the hard yards and became a part of this country. We are ready to develop further, continue to enjoy Australia and contribute to the nation’s wealth.
“As Centrelink is not helping any 489 visa holder and 887 visa applicants we are solely dependent on work income which we have lost in this crisis. Government support in this situation for us would be survival.”
Tasmanian Greens senator Nick McKim also said it was a health issue that there is a relatively large section of the population who is facing the potential of homelessness, or continuing to work in whatever jobs are available regardless of the coronavirus risk.
“You can’t self isolate if you are living on the street, and failure to urgently respond could cause a public health nightmare,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that international residents who are not able to support themselves should return to their home countries.
“It is time, as it has been now for some while … to make your way home and to ensure that you can receive the supports that are available where they are in your home countries,” he said.
“At this time, Australia must focus on its citizens and its residents to ensure that we can maximise the economic supports that we have.
“Our focus and our priority is on supporting Australians and Australian residents with the economic supports that are available.”
But Mr McKim said many temporary visa holders are not able to return to their home countries.
“Many of them have no income and no capacity to leave the country due to restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic, and face losing their homes and jobs,” he said.
Bass Liberal MHA Bridget Archer said she was listening to her constituents’ concerns.
“I have been engaging closely with local constituents, particularly those in our hospitality sector who have been impacted by this and I have been actively lobbying my ministerial colleagues for relief,” she said.
“I am pleased to have seen some measures rolled out to assist but I will keep advocating for additional measures if needed.”