Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, migrants in Australia have been left more vulnerable than others.  Neos Kosmos has spoken to a multitude of visa holders who have highlighted the legal catch which prevents them from receiving government support which Australian permanent residency holders and citizens are privy to.

Neos Kosmos highlighted their contribution to the Australian economy and asked Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge whether the Federal Government would support them in their time of need and set up a fund similar to the one which the Tasmanian state government has created.

“It depends on which category (visa) you are referring to,” Mr Tudge said in response to NK’s question, specifying that some additional funds have been put in the emergency relief fund which everyone who is a resident in Australia has access to.

“We note that some people are in difficulty, we acknowledge that and we have empathy for their situation which has not been caused by them. Having said that, whenever a person comes into Australia on a temporary visa there has always been the expectation that they will be able to look after themselves while they are temporarily in Australia and we have always reserved the welfare and job assistance for citizens and permanent residents,” he said.

He did however outline a number of avenues the government has opened to help these people, such as giving visa holders access to their superannuation, providing flexibility in relation to visas and the facilitation of more working hours, particularly for international students.

Apart from government help, he urged migrants to turn to their communities, consulates and other emergency providers while also outlining the $110 million benchmarked for international students by tertiary institutions.

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“In some respects – that’s the great Australian way – that we all chip in and help one another,” he said.

Neos Kosmos also urged  Mr Tudge to consider those on the pathway to Permanent Residency. In response to our question, Mr Tudge revealed a “statement of intent” to help visa holders on the path to permanent residency which may have been stood down or have even returned to their own country after being stood down. “If they return to Australia, they won’t start from scratch again. We will ensure that,” he told Neos Kosmos.

“We haven’t worked out all the details in relation to this. I’ve indicated our statement of intent. There may be people three years in on a Permanent Residency pathway and all of a sudden, through no fault of their own, the business sponsoring them has been unable to hold them on and they have to return to their home country. We want to say to these individuals: ‘We recognise you have been on this pathway and if you apply in the future to come back to Australia and you have a sponsor who can sponsor you, then the time you have already spent in Australia can count towards that four years minimum you need to apply for permanent residency’,” he said, adding that the new rules are still being worked out and require time before they can be presented due to their complexity.

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Mr Tudge also urged small businesses to take advantage of JobKeeper funds and other aid available to them such as loan adjustments, asset write-offs to help business cash-flows and the mandatory code of conduct on residencies. “We know that many small businesses are doing it tough at the moment,” he said.

He condemned acts of racism against the Asian community and said that “racism is unacceptable” and urged anyone facing racism to turn to the Human Rights Commission.

Lifting up his phone, he said that the COVID-19 tracing app which already has 2.5 million users will be helpful in combatting coronavirus and he encouraged multicultural communities to download it. There are fact sheets for the usage of the app, however the app itself will not be translated in languages other than English “because it is so straightforward”.