Temporary visa holders wait on virus help

Some cafe cleaners on temporary visas are losing their jobs because of coronavirus restrictions.
Some cafe cleaners on temporary visas are losing their jobs because of coronavirus restrictions.

People in Australia on temporary visas who have lost jobs amid the coronavirus-driven economic shutdown are finding themselves stuck without any government support.

Brisbane man Zoran has been married for just over a year, but his wife is still on a temporary partner visa as she doesn't yet qualify for a permanent one.

On Sunday, she got an email sacking her from her cleaning job at the Howard Smith Wharves because the strip of restaurants where she worked were forced to transform to takeaway-only venues.

"Obviously the restaurants and cafes are closed and there's no work for her," Zoran told AAP. His wife, whose English is poor, did not want to be named.

"We've moved back home (to my parents) so it's going to relieve the rent and other bills, so we're lucky in that case but other people won't be lucky, like her friends.

"There will be other people in the same situation but they'll be renting and I don't know what they'll be doing so they'll be really struggling."

Zoran said he had helped his wife to set up a myGov account but, as with thousands of others around the country, hadn't been able to get on to the Centrelink site to register.

"The website's crashing and a lot of people as you know are queueing up so I won't be trying for another week or two," he told AAP.

The government has waived welfare waiting periods for foreigners who are on track to receive their citizenship soon but those on temporary visas can't access benefits.

Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim said the government owed an urgent responsibility to look after those among the 1.5 million people on temporary visas who needed support.

"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.

This includes people on temporary work or skilled visas, asylum seekers, international students, people who hold working holiday visas and New Zealand citizens.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has asked for Kiwis to be given access to benefits but so far hasn't heard back from the Morrison government.

"In our mind it's all part of a wider response that's required to help people to stay at home. If people don't have that financial support they have an incentive to work when they shouldn't," she told reporters.

The nation's peak multicultural body has also written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison asking for the issue to be dealt with urgently.

Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia chair Mary Patseos said the combined health and economic crises were so unprecedented it required a rethink of the existing ways of doing things.

"These people contribute to our society and economy, they are our friends, neighbours and co-workers, and they deserve the support of their community at this time," she said.

Parliament gave Social Services Minister Anne Ruston temporary wide-ranging powers to make changes to the welfare system to rapidly respond to the evolving coronavirus crisis.

She is working through the various visa classes to see what support could be given.

Australian Associated Press