Canberra hospitality workers on temporary visas who were stood down this week are without an income and bleak prospects in Australia.
Under the conditions of some visas, like those in hospitality and international students, they have 60 days to find alternative work in the same industry with an employer willing to sponsor them, which seems unlikely given the downturn in the hospitality sector, or return home to their country of origin.
Migration lawyers highlight the legal catch which prevents such workers from receiving government support in the form of Centrelink payments until their employer’s hospitality business is up and running again.
“Under the terms of these work visas, there’s an obligation on the sponsored employee to ensure they do not cease employment for more than a certain period of time,” said Connie Park from Baker, Deane and Nutt Lawyers.
“There’s no standard answer as visa conditions will vary for individuals and for some of the holders of temporary skilled visas they have 60 days to find another employer who will give them work, and sponsor their visa. For some individuals, a fresh visa application may not be necessary in order to change employers, but a new nomination may need to be approved, which may take some time.”
While temporary visa holders are able to return to their country of origin if it is safe and possible to do so, they must apply for a new visa if they wish to stay in Australia until the hospitality industry can re-open. But applying for another visa is a complicated and time-consuming task, according to Gerald Santucci of Snedden, Hall, and Gallop.
“If your visa is about to run out you have to apply for another visa, a new 482 visa, but it’s required that their employer nominate them,” said Mr Santucci.
“If they’re already on their second visa and there are no other options, they may get stuck with making an application for a short-term visa, but a visitor visa is not reasonable.”
The Australian Migration Institute is believed to have raised these and other issues with the Federal Government.
“Further clarification is needed from government to ensure all those on visas, who may be deemed in breach, are given a bridging visa before it gets to the point of being asked to go to a government office, being given a bridging visa or be banned from coming back to Australia for a significant period of time,” said Mr Santucci.
Ms Park recommended affected visa holders proactively pursue an outcome with Home Affairs.
“I can’t emphasise enough that if your circumstances have changed resulting from your employer’s circumstances, do not leave your visa issues until the very last minute as it will be in the visa holder’s best interests to contact the Department of Home Affairs sooner rather than later,” Ms Park said.
The Department of Social Security advised that under the package which passed Parliament last week, the Government has waived the Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period. The so-called Special Benefit may be available to certain temporary visa holders if they face significant financial hardship. The Special Benefit is paid at the JobSeeker Payment rate and recipients will be eligible for the coronavirus supplement of $550.
The Prime Minister recently announced a $200 million boost to community services which will expand support to vulnerable people including assistance for paying bills and buying other essentials such as food, clothing and petrol. There are no residency restrictions to access existing or expanded emergency relief services.
At present, the situation for temporary visa holders of any kind is that the Australian migration regulations still apply to those people who are in Australia and can’t leave to go back to their home country. You cannot assume the government will allow you to stay indefinitely. A person on a short-term visa with less than two months to run needs to contact the Department of Home Affairs and Centrelink immediately.
“That said, the situation is changing rapidly, so we should stay tuned for any further announcements from either the Prime Minister or the Minister for Home Affairs, in case there are changes to the arrangements for temporary visa holders,” Mr Santucci said.
Further information on the Special Benefit is available on the Services Australia website.