22 Nov 2020

Benefits for migrant workers to match standard dole rate

3:53 pm on 22 November 2020

Emergency benefits for temporary visa holders will be set at the same rate as the main unemployment benefit - but they won't get access to extra support, like the accommodation supplement or food grants.

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It's been a tough time for temporary visa holders, the Union Network of Migrants says. Photo: 123RF

From December, migrant workers who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic - as well as student and visitor visa holders who are facing financial hardship and can't get home - will be able to get an emergency benefit for a limited time.

Usually, people who are not residents or citizens are ineligible for support from the Ministry of Social Development.

However, there is specific provision in the law to grant emergency benefits to people not normally entitled to it, during an epidemic.

It has now been confirmed that the emergency benefit will be paid at the same rate as jobseeker support.

That means single people will get $251 a week, people with a partner and children will get $428 a week, while sole parents will get $375 a week.

But temporary visa holders will not be able to get any extra support or payments, such as the accommodation supplement or hardship assistance, like food grants.

They will also need to show they are looking for work, or other ways to support themselves, and are looking at options to get home.

Until now, this group has had to rely on support through a temporary programme run by the Department of Internal Affairs and the Red Cross, which finishes at the end of this month.

Since July, it has helped 12,300 people with basic needs like food and accommodation.

Advocates for migrant workers have been pushing for access to emergency benefits for months - and they say they are relieved it has finally happened.

Union Network of Migrants president Mandeep Bela said it had been a tough time for many.

"There were a lot of them who were asking for help from the community and were going out to get food parcels," he said.

"This announcement will come as a relief to them that they can now go through a standard process."

But Bela is still frustrated it has taken this long.

"I just feel that often migrants are pitted against Kiwis and that rhetoric had actually resulted in delay in [the section of the law allowing access to benefits during an epidemic] being activated."

Migrant Workers Association spokesperson Anu Kaloti.

Anu Kaloti Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

Migrant Workers Association president Anu Kaloti is also welcoming the changes.

But Kaloti is worried some temporary visa holders may be reluctant to apply for an emergency benefit, because they don't know how, or they don't trust the system.

"There will be people out there who will be wary and nervous, and we have to factor in that temporary migrants will not be fully familiar with how Work and Income works.

"They've never been eligible for this kind of assistance, so they've never had to use those services."

Community Law chief executive Sue Moroney said the government should have acted sooner to help temporary migrants, given it had the legal ability to do so.

"What we wanted to see the law enacted in the way it was intended ... clearly section 64 of the Social Security Act was there for exactly this reason, when there was a pandemic, that migrants would have access to the emergency benefit.

"We were concerned that if it wasn't going to be used in this instance, what was the point of it?"

Moroney said the change should make a big difference to those who are struggling.

"It will be much clearer what the entitlement is and how much people will be getting, and it means they will actually get cash to be able to support themselves."

Applications for the emergency benefit for temporary visa holders open on December 1 and the benefit will be paid until the end of February.

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