Many temporary Australian residents will be excluded from the JobSeeker Payment and Coronavirus Supplement to be provided to permanent residents. In this open letter to the prime minister, 40 leading Australian experts on public policy argue this is in no-one’s interests.
Dear Mr Morrison,
The Australian government has achieved a great deal with its far-reaching responses to the risks to the Australian people and the economy as a result of the Covid19 pandemic.
The temporary increases to social security benefits through the introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement and the introduction of the JobKeeper Payment have done much to boost public confidence as Australia along with the rest of the world faces the most challenging economic environment in 100 years.
The combination of these two payments should provide a robust safety net for those who qualify for one or other of the payments.
However, there is a serious gap in the government’s response that needs to be filled as soon as possible. This is the situation facing temporary visa holders in the workforce who are not currently eligible to access the COVID-19 crisis measures.
On April 4, the acting minister for immigration announced announced that most temporary visa holders with work rights will now be able to access their Australian superannuation to help support themselves during the crisis, but that others would be encouraged to return to their home country.
The Minister’s Statement sets out the scale of this issue:
there are 2.17 million people presently in Australia on a temporary visa
of these, there are more than 672,000 New Zealanders in Australia on a subclass 444 visa
there are 565,000 international students in Australia, mainly studying in the higher education or vocational education sector
There are around 139,000 temporary skilled visa holders, on either a 2 year or 4 year visa
There are about 118,000 people in Australia on a Working Holiday visa (or backpacker visa)
There are another 185,000 other temporary visa holders in Australia, about half of them temporary graduate visa holders
The minister has acknowledged the crucial role that these temporary visa holders play in the Australian economy.
For example, his statement points out that international students “are an important contributor to our tertiary sector and economy, supporting 240,000 Australian jobs.”AAP
Many of those on working holiday visas are working in “the critical sectors of heath, aged and disability care, agriculture and food processing, and childcare”.
Temporary skilled visa holders “were provided the visa to fill a skills shortage – a shortage that may still be present when the crisis has passed”.
Also on April 4, a joint statement from the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Immigration announced temporary changes to visa arrangements to help farmers access the workforce they need to secure Australia’s food and produce supply during COVID-19.
Pointing out that “these visa holders fill a critical workforce gap in this sector,” the government announced that, before moving to other parts of the country, working holiday makers will need to self-isolate for 14 days.
The JobKeeper and the JobSeeker Payments will cover some temporary visa holders, but not all.
For example, it appears that New Zealanders in Australia will be eligible for the JobKeeper Payment, but only if they have been with the same employer for 12 months or more. They will only be entitled to the JobSeeker Payment and the Coronavirus Supplement if they have been in Australia for 10 years or more.
Non-New Zealanders will have only their super to rely on (which may have plummeted in value), a wholly inadequate solution.
The government has already made the very positive move of extending access to social security benefits to permanent residents who previously were not eligible for many payments for up to four years.
Refusing income support to temporary migrants who lose their jobs poses risks to public health and their own welfare, will create shortages of workers in vital sectors now and when the economy restarts, and breach Australia’s global responsibilities.
These workers have all been making valuable contributions to the Australian economy.
Many will not be able to, and should not have to, return “home”.
If temporary migrants find themselves without income and unlawfully resident here, Australia will face a humanitarian crisis and an even worse health situation for us all.
Such migrants may be made homeless or will be forced to live in crowded situations and may be forced into illegal work.
We believe that as a matter of urgency that entitlement to the JobSeeker Payment and the Coronavirus Supplement should be extended to these workers for the period of the current health emergency.
The minister for families and social services has wide-ranging discretionary powers to make regulations to achieve this, but the sitting of parliament this week provides the opportunity for the government to make a firm commitment to fill this gap in their response to this unprecedented crisis.
Associate Professor Laurie Berg, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney
Professor Sharon Bessel, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University
Associate Professor Anna Boucher, The University of Sydney
Associate Professor Bruce Bradbury, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW
Dr Stephen Clibborn, The University of Sydney Business School
Professor Jock Collins, Professor of Social Economics, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney
Professor Rae Cooper, The University of Sydney Business School
Professor Jean-Philippe Deranty, Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University
Dr Norbert Ebert, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University
Associate Professor Bassina Farbenblum, Director UNSW Human Rights Clinic, UNSW Law
Professor Karen R Fisher, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW
Professor Susan Goodwin, The University of Sydney
Professor Matthew Gray, Centre for Social Research and Methods, The Australian National University
Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis, The University of Sydney Business School
Dr Nicholas Harrigan, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University
Professor Paul Henman School of Social Science, The University of Queensland
Associate Professor in Law Joanna Howe, University of Adelaide
Dr Evan Jones, Department of Political Economy, The University of Sydney
Peter Mares, Adjunct Fellow, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University
Professor Greg Marston, Professor of Social Policy, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland
Professor Gabrielle Meagher, Honorary Professor, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University
Professor Alan Morris, University of Technology Sydney
Associate Professor Gaby Ramia, The University of Sydney
Professor Alex Reilly, Law School, University of Adelaide
Associate Professor Shanthi Robertson, School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Western Sydney University
Professor Nicholas Smith, Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University
Dr Ben Spies-Butcher, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University
Dr. Adam Stebbing, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University
Professor Miranda Stewart, Tax Group, University of Melbourne Law School
Professor Joo-Cheong Tham, Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne
Scientia Professor Carla Treloar, Centre for Social Research in Health; Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales
Associate Professor kylie valentine, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales
Associate Professor Diane Van Den Broek, The University of Sydney Business School
Associate Professor Selvaraj Velayutham, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University
Professor Ariadne Vromen, Department of Government and International Relations, The University of Sydney
Professor Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
Associate Professor Shaun Wilson, Macquarie University
Professor Amanda Wise, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University
Associate Professor Chris F Wright, The University of Sydney
Associate Professor Kyoung-Hee Yu, University of Technology Sydney
Authors: Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University