Hospitality operators are fighting for a financial safety net for temporary visa holders, as thousands of workers are without work due to the venue shutdowns across the country.

There are 2.17 million temporary visa holders in Australia, many of which work in the hospitality sector, however Prime Minister Scott Morrison has encouraged anyone who is unable to support themselves financially for the next six months to “return to their home countries”. 

On Saturday 4 April, the Department of Home Affairs announced a number of changes to the temporary visa holder arrangements.

Temporary Skilled visa holders on a two- or four-year visa who have been stood down or have had their hours reduced as a result of the coronavirus crisis will maintain their visa validity.

Businesses will be able to extend employee visas and will also be able to reduce their hours without putting the visa holder in breach of their visa conditions. 

However, existing visa conditions remain the same for any visa holders who have been laid off, as opposed to stood down; if they’re unable to secure a new sponsor, they’ll need to leave the country. 

Four-year visa holders who are reemployed after the pandemic will be able to count time spent in Australia towards their permanent residency skilled work experience requirements. 

Although the relaxed conditions will bring some relief to visa holders who’ve invested in a long-term stint in Australia, they offer no reprieve from financial stress.

While most temporary visa holders with work rights can now access up to $10,000 from superannuation funds this financial year, they remain ineligible for welfare provisions such as the JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments. 

Labor, trade unions and industry leaders push back

The Labor party is committed to passing the $130 billion JobKeeper package on Wednesday, however opposition leader Anthony Albanese said Labor was discussing ways to ensure casuals and migrant and visa holders are not left out of a wage subsidy deal. 

The Australian Trade Council of Unions has called for the $1500 a fortnight payment to be increased to $1375 a week in order to match the median wage, while also raising concerns about casuals and visa workers. 

Hospitality operators have called for financial support for temporary visa holders, emphasising the critical role of overseas workers in the industry. 

In a post on Instagram, Fink’s Peter Gilmore said 25 per cent of his Quay and Bennelong teams are on temporary work visas, and their exclusion from financial support has severely impacted their livelihoods.

“Our beloved hospitality industry would be on its knees without their skills, hard work and dedication,” said the chef.

“Fink is working with industry bodies to ensure they have a voice, to gain access to the basics, and to ride out this worldwide crisis. But we need more. We ask the government to include overseas nationals in their support packages and do so as soon as possible.”

Neil Perry also used his platform to call for change.

“A really important part of the hospitality industry is our awesome visa workers,” he posted on Instagram. “They need support too, we can’t leave 500,000 people trapped in Australia with no support. Please ask our government to help, we need to extend a helping hand.”

Image credit:  Michael Browning 

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