5 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Australia urges New Zealanders without support to return home

9:10 am on 5 April 2020

Australia's government is advising New Zealanders living there without means of support to go home.

New Zealand passport.

Photo: 123RF

Acting immigration minister Alan Tudge said Australia was making changes to temporary visa arrangements as it managed the Covid-19 crisis.

The advisory applied to those who did not qualify for any of the welfare support available.

Tudge said that while citizens, permanent residents and many New Zealanders had access to unconditional work rights and government payments (including the new JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments), temporary visa holders did not.

More than two million people were in Australia on a temporary visa, including 672,000 New Zealanders holding the special category 444 visa.

It gives them access to welfare assistance, depending on how long they had been in Australia.

New Zealanders on 444 visas and who arrived in Australia before 26 February 2001 would have access to welfare payments and the JobKeeper payment.

Those 444 visa holders who arrived after 2001 had access to the JobKeeper payment. Those who have lived in Australia for 10 years or more have access to JobSeeker payments for six months.

"New Zealanders should consider returning to New Zealand if they are unable to support themselves through these provisions, work or family support," Tudge said.

A New Zealander in Australia on a resident visa said the latest advisory was likely to affect casual workers the most.

Ali Slotemaker, who co-owned a coffee roasting and hospitality business in north Queensland, said a large portion of the hospitality workforce would not be entitled to welfare grants because many were casual.

"Which is not the same as New Zealand, having owned a business in both. Especially in hospitality and tourism it will leave people who've been casual workers and who haven't been with the same employer for 12 months ... yes, that's going to be a problem."

She said many were entrenched in the Australian life, with close-knit support networks, but there was little choice if they had no financial support.

Tudge said international students in Australia were encouraged to rely on family support, part-time work where available and their own savings to sustain themselves in Australia.

"As part of their visa application, international students have had to demonstrate that they can support themselves completely in their first year."

Tudge said the 565,000 international students in Australia were mainly studying in the higher education or vocational education sector and were an important contributor to the country's tertiary sector and economy, supporting 240,000 Australian jobs.

Students who had been there longer than 12 months and who found themselves in financial hardship would be able to access their Australian superannuation.

There were 203,000 international visitors in Australia, typically on a visa lasting three months or less.

"International tourists should return to their home country as quickly as possible, particularly those without family support.

"Thousands are already doing this and others should follow their lead," Tudge said.