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Lockdown is an opportunity to bring temporary visa holders into the fold

On the first day of lockdown redux last week I was giving soup to temporary visa holders who have lost their jobs in hospitality. I’ve been doing it each Thursday since April. The mood was heavy. Workers who had started to pick up a few shifts had now lost them. People who had been holding on for an easing of restrictions had seen their hopes dashed. Glum attendees – from Brazil, France, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Turkey, the US, everywhere – were at the extreme limits of their resources and resilience.

Hitherto, temporary visa holders have been unable to access government assistance such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker. It’s been really tough for them. Many have been here for years. They have built lives and futures in Australia through legal pathways. They’ve paid taxes. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s exhortation in early April to “go home” struck many of them in the heart – they are already home. Now that their situation is even more desperate, these workers must be looked after by our federal and state governments.

Around one in five chefs, one in four cooks, and one in five waiters, cafe and bar workers hold some form of temporary visa.

Around one in five chefs, one in four cooks, and one in five waiters, cafe and bar workers hold some form of temporary visa.Credit:Scott McNaughton, Dominic Lorrimer and Simon Schluter

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.

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