This page is to assist overseas nationals with working rights in Australia who have lost jobs or reduced hours due to COVID-19. I am a food writer who cares about your plight. I am not qualified to give you legal advice. Please use this page as a starting place. I can take no responsibility for your actions or the consequences that may arise from them. I wish you all the best and I want you to know that many people care about your situation!
Everything in blue has been added in the past 24 hours.
On July 23, the JobKeeper review will be announced. Hopefully there will be an extension of eligibility.
I had a piece in The Age on July 13 about visa holders. Here’s an extract:
“Beyond simple human need, there are good reasons to assist temporary visa holders.
The hard lockdown of social housing towers in Melbourne has brought into broader consciousness the clear link between poverty and virus transmission. Temporary visa holders without resources are forced into crowded accommodation. They may scrabble together whatever work they can find, even when unwell. They may be unwilling to seek medical assistance due to fear of the cost – coronavirus testing and treatment is free but transport and other auxiliary costs are not. The $1500 hardship payment for those required to self-isolate in Victoria extends only to skilled temporary workers on 457 and 482 visas, a small subset of this cohort. What are the others supposed to do? Making it easier for everyone to stay healthy is better for us all.” Read the whole piece.
Federal MP Josh Burns (below) attended the Attica Soup Project that I help run recently. He spoke to visa holders at length. Josh is the Labour MP (ie. not in government). He is aligned with our views. He will continue to work for change.
* Businesses are reopening and they will need staff, hopefully you!
There are different rules in different states:
– NSW allows 50 patrons – Victoria is locked down until August 19 – South Australia is allowing a maximum of 80 patrons across all dining areas whether enclosed or outdoors with a maximum of 20 in each dining area. – West Australia allows 20 patrons and will change density rules to 1 person / 2 sq m from June 6 – Tasmania is allowing 10 patrons in each dining area (max. 20) – Queensland is allowing 10 patrons, with 20 in outback areas; they’re considering 50 people soon – Northern Territory has allowed venues to open with restrictions and rules – ACT currently allows 20 people
SBS Food writer Lee Tran Lam wrote this story about visa holders in hospitality.
Abbir Dib is a journalist in Melbourne, working on a news program at RMIT University. Her parents have run restaurants since emigrating to Australia 30 years ago and the issues of temporary visa holders really resonate with her.
She interviewed me for this news program – head to around 9 minutes 40 seconds for her report.
I think the broader public (and apparently the PM and Treasurer!) don’t really understand that temporary visa holders are the backbone of Australia’s hospitality industry. It was really important to me to put faces to the stats and try to round out the picture of who visa holders are. So I wrote this piece for the Age & Sydney Morning Herald Good Food section with seven portraits of visa holders. I also wanted to get employer voices in the story. If anyone knows how important overseas workers are, it’s the owners who couldn’t run their businesses without them.
Daniele Vischetti a chef at FareShare in Abbotsford. Photo: Scott McNaughton / The Age
National news show “A Current Affair” recently covered visa workers in hospitality in a very positive light. I was interviewed as part of the story which you can watch here. This is a show watched by more than a million people around Australia – I’m sure a lot of people had their eyes opened to the issues you are all facing because it had such mainstream coverage.
More Media Coverage:
There’s a lot of media coverage of the exclusion of temporary visa holders from assistance packages and the hardship this is causing.
ABC News covered the issue of international restaurant workers on last night’s news. Check out Zoe Daniel’s report from around 13:25, including interviews with Ben Shewry, me and some of the out-of-work people I’ve met through my advocacy in this space. Real people, real problems, not their fault – surely Team Australia’s table is big enough for them too. There’s a report here too.
Hospitality workers impacted by the crisis can access a daily $25 voucher with Deliveroo to participating venues around Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. To redeem, simply email MealsForMates@pernod-ricard.com with proof of employment in the hospitality industry.
I am part of the Attica Soup Project. We are giving away soup and fortune cookies on Thursday mornings to visa holders. The location is Attica, 74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea. You MUST place your free order and book a time slot. Bookings open every Tuesday. Visa holders who come for soup will also be given pro bono legal advice over the phone by Attica’s immigration agents.
Gelato Messina is distributing food made by FareShare in Brunswick. As they say, “We’re helping out by opening our East Brunswick warehouse as a designated pick up zone for FareShare’s nutritious meals. If you would like to redeem a meal, or know someone who does, we’ll be offering weekly collections on Thursdays and Fridays, 4-8pm.” Order it here.
Food packages are available every Friday at 360 Church Street, Richmond via the Marjorie McGregor Relief Fund. This is specifically for temporary visa holders. Contact Rachael MMRP3121@gmail.com, 0403 560 062. Rachael says this: “I’m a hospo worker and although I have PR now it took me a lot of blood, sweat, tears and cash to get to where I am now! I just cannot believe how blind-sighted this government is being in relation to what temporary visa holders do for this country.” SAME!!
COVID EAD is an amazing, heartwarming initiative run by hospo people that will deliver meals to your home. Register here.
Clamms Seafood is giving away free fish to out of work hospo workers on Saturdays 9am-noon. 1/2 Somerville Rd, Yarraville.
MELB & SYD Prominent chef Neil Perry has turned two of his restaurants into large-scale kitchens making meals for charity and specifically for visa workers. Turn up to Rockpool in Melbourne (at Crown) and Rosetta in Sydney (118 Harrington Street, The Rocks) on Monday-Friday noon-3pm (4pm in Melbourne) and they will have something delicious for you. Find out more here.
Hearth & Soul in Newtown, Sydney is giving away meals to anyone who needs them.
Ask Izzy is a great resource for organisations helping with food relief. Input your postcode and it will bring up a list of local charities that will help in your area.
Fundraising to employ a chef
I’m an ambassador for food charity FareShare. Normally, FareShare is powered by a volunteer workforce but at the moment volunteers have been replaced by professional chefs. I am fundraising to employ a visa worker at FareShare. See more here.
Students who have been here longer than 12 months, skilled visa holders and temporary resident visa holders (including working holiday, according to new factsheet) are now able to access $10,000 of their super this financial year ie. before June 30.
On Wednesday April 8, Parliament passed the JobKeeper legislation without amendments. That is, temporary visa holders are not included in the assistance package to employers. Labor proposed amendments but they were voted down and in the end, the legislation was passed. I am so unhappy about this! I feel like the Government doesn’t understand that many temporary visa holders have built lives and futures here. Going ‘home’ is not an option. Living on no money is not an option. We are not giving up!
JobKeeper requires employees to be “an Australian citizen, the holder of a permanent visa, a Protected Special Category Visa Holder, a non-protected Special Category Visa Holder who has been residing continually in Australia for 10 years or more, or a Special Category (Subclass 444) Visa Holder”.
There are at least two reasons to stay hopeful. The Treasurer has the discretion to change the rules of eligibility for JobKeeper and the scheme is undersubscribed by $60 billion. The Social Security minister has the discretion to change who is eligible for JobSeeker. This means that the main government benefit packages could be extended to all visa holders if the government decides. So…we keep pushing!
What are temporary visa holders eligible for?
Here is a government summary including relaxation of six-month rule for WHV in certain occupations, relaxation of 40 hours fortnight rule for student with some employers and possibility of extending visas if unable to return to country of origin.
VISA CONDITIONS FOR SKILLED VISA HOLDERS: Some visa conditions have been relaxed – eg skilled visa holders who have been stood down, but not laid off, will maintain their visa validity and businesses will have the opportunity to extend their visa. Businesses will also be able to reduce the hours of the visa holder without the person being in breach of their visa condition.
Victoria, ACT, Tasmania and South Australia have launched funds for international students. The Tassie & ACT funds are for all visa holders.
The South Australian Government, in partnership with the state’s three public universities, will match funding to alleviate student hardship as a result of COVID-19. The funding will be distributed between the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the University of South Australia to distribute to their pathway and international students.
A $500 emergency cash grant will be available to other international students not studying at one of the public universities, currently enrolled in a course, living in Adelaide and who meet the criteria.
The Tasmanian Government has unveiled a $3 million package to support around 26,000 temporary visa holders stuck in the state because of the coronavirus pandemic. Visa holders who can demonstrate immediate financial hardship will be eligible for $250 for individuals, and $1,000 for families.
Premier Peter Gutwein said it was “only fair” to support people who had contributed to the state’s economy. “It’s important we support these people who’ve been working in our community earning an income and this package will take the steps necessary to do that,” he said. “I don’t agree with the simple message that temporary visa holders should just go home. In many cases they can’t.”
***It’s not enough but it’s a start!***
Tasmania has offered rent relief to everyone including visa holders. Find out more here.
What are the rules?
Contact your migration agent for information about your particular situation.
Is your visa running out? There is a new COVID-19 visa now available. It allows you to remain in Australia if you have no other visa options and are unable to depart Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Here’s a handy Q&A from a migration agent relating to 457 and 482 visa holders.
This means that you are still bound by the terms of your worker or student visa, other than the specific exceptions mentioned below.
some people are able to access up to $10,000 super. Students who have been here longer than 12 months, skilled visa holders and graduates can access up to $10,000 of their superannuation. This should be tax-free.
the number of hours that those on student visas may work has been extended. Students are now able to seek employment in excess of 40 hours a fortnight at particular workplaces, including aged care homes and supermarkets. See here for more information. This exemption expires May 1, except in certain industries.
There’s also this: a new COVID-19 visa is now available. It allows you to remain in Australia if you have no other visa options and are unable to depart Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Skilled visa holders who have been stood down, but not laid off, will maintain their visa validity and businesses will have the opportunity to extend their visa. Businesses will also be able to reduce the hours of the visa holder without the person being in breach of their visa condition.
Overseas students are unable to attend their tertiary institution. However, the rules have not changed. We hope they will! But currently, they need to continue paying their tuition fees in order for them to continue being educated by the institution. If tuition ceases, then visas could potentially be cancelled as they are not meeting visa requirements.
This tip for sponsored workers was forwarded to me from a migration agent: If your sponsoring business has closed temporarily, talk to your boss and ask them to put you on paid leave or unpaid leave (according to your situation). This way, you will continue to receive your payslips (even if they have no amount) and potentially be useful in the future.
Rent & evictions
Many overseas workers are very worried about an immediate loss of income which means they don’t have enough money to pay for rent, bills and food.
If you haven’t already, write a letter to your real estate agent or landlord asking for a rent reduction. I have written a template here which you can adapt.
However, the States and Territories are in charge of residential tenancy law so each state needs to take on this moratorium and make it law. It’s a very messy and confusing situation at the moment, as reported in this Guardian article.
Please note that unless you’ve made an agreement with your landlord, rent arrears will still be owed. Paying less rent doesn’t mean you won’t still owe the full rent.
State by state info:
Queensland has made new rules preventing eviction or ending of leases. See announcement here. There’s information on the process here. Unfortunately visa holders are not eligible for government rent assistance but you can’t be evicted.
Tasmania has legislated. See announcement here. You can’t be evicted unless you are using your property for illegal purposes.
South Australia has paused evictions though I don’t think they’ve passed new laws. See information here. Only the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) has the legal authority to order an eviction from a rental property ie. even if your landlord says they are evicting you, it doesn’t stand in law unless the tribunal agrees. And I don’t think the tribunal will agree at this time.
The Victorian government has established a rental assistance fund AND VISA HOLDERS ARE ALL ELIGIBLE – YAY!: “The Government will create an $80 million rental assistance fund for renters facing hardship due of coronavirus. To be eligible, renters will need to have registered their revised agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria or gone through mediation, have less than $5,000 in savings and still be paying at least 30 per cent of their income in rent. As agreed by National Cabinet, these new measures will come into effect from 29 March for a period of six months.” Read more here. There’s a hotline for housing help: 1800 825 955 This is where to email for assistance of up to $2000 that goes directly to your landlord: ImplementationSupport@dhhs.vic.gov.au. See the Tenants Union latest.
New South Wales hasn’t passed any laws but you cannot be evicted without an order from the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), and only the Sheriff can physically remove you. See info here. That means, even if your landlord says they are evicting you, it doesn’t stand in law unless the tribunal agrees.
West Australia – Laws haven’t changed but the eviction process is formal and long – you can apply for extensions due to hardship. See info here.
NT – There’s no change to the laws around evictions. See info here.
ACT – Landlords have been offered government rebates if they reduce rent. See report. There is no excuse for them not to drop rent. There’s a Facebook page for the Tenants Union.
The Australian Homestay Network has set up a special COVID stream to assist international students who have lost their jobs. They are offering free accommodation in people’s homes. Find out more.
– prioritise food and other essentials above rent as it is hard for landlords to evict (see above re rent & evictions) – ask your utility (electricity, gas, phone) providers for special consideration or payment plans for your bills because of financial hardship due to coronavirus. There are contacts for many providers here; otherwise look for a phone number on your bill. – if you have any direct debits, stop them unless you really need them – if you have Afterpay commitments, request a hardship payment plan via this form. – contact your migration agent to ask for their latest advice. – sign my petition and this petition advocating for support for temporary workers. – look for other work.
If you are working, please keep yourself safe. Employers must do everything they can to ensure a safe working environment and minimise risks of spread of COVID-19. See these ACTU guidelines.
If you are a sponsored worker who has lost their job, there has been no official change to the requirement that you stay with that employer. This may change.
The Federal government has just launched a JobsHub listing employment around the country.
The Victorian government has announced a job matching scheme. Sign up here. Temporary visa holders are able to sign up!
Melinda Davis works with Skills & Jobs Centre at Melbourne’s Box Hill TAFE. She has kindly offered free assistance with writing a resume, putting together a cover letter or anything to do with the job search process. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0429 341 755.
If you’re a foreign worker, you are unlikely to be eligible for any payments from Centrelink, including JobSeeker. Learn more here.
Hospitality union Hospo Voice is demanding that the Federal Government provides a living wage for every worker affected by this crisis. They are also tallying lost hours and income at I Lost My Hospo Shift.