Visa holders: Who can stay and who can’t
TENS of thousands of backpackers will be told to leave Australia immediately and warned they will not receive a cent of welfare as the Federal Government moves to cull the number of those on temporary visas.
But exemptions will be unveiled today for Pacific Island seasonal workers and backpackers working on farms, under sweeping visa overhauls that also ensures Australians do not have to compete with international students and skilled migrants to get jobs.
Federal and state leaders have become increasingly frustrated with backpackers and international tourists who have failed to comply with social distancing because of the coronavirus crisis.
The Courier-Mail understands the Government is considering more stringent measures for those who ignore Australia's measures, with the potential for those who flout the rules to have their visas cancelled.
Two announcements will be made today by federal Regional Development Minister Michael McCormack, acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, and all but carve out two new cohorts of visa holders - ones needed to help Australia get through the coronavirus pandemic, and others who place a strain on resources.
There are more than two million people on temporary visas in the country.
International students, who were recently allowed to double the number of hours they could work to help stack supermarket shelves, will now have these wound back to 40 hours a fortnight from May 1 as desperate Australians look for work.
Mr Tudge said most temporary visa holders with work rights would now be able to access their Australian superannuation to help support themselves during this crisis.
The message will also be made clear today that backpackers will not receive Australian welfare.
"Temporary visa holders who are unable to support themselves under these arrangements over the next six months are strongly encouraged to return home," Mr Tudge said.
"For these individuals it's time to go home and they should make arrangements as quickly as possible.
"Temporary visa holders are extremely valuable to the Australian economy and way of life, but the reality is that many Australians will find themselves out of work due to the dual health and economic crisis we're currently facing, and these Australians and permanent residents must be the Government's No.1 focus."
Flights are still available out of Australia for travellers to return home.
Changes would be made to enable temporary visa holders to remain in key industries, such as health, aged and disability care, agriculture and food processing, Mr Littleproud said.
"Workforce requirements for agriculture change within and across states as different crops are ready for harvest,'' he said.
"It is essential for our food security that workers can move to meet these seasonal labour needs.
"At the same time it is critical we manage this labour force to support the ongoing health of regional communities."
Mr Littleproud said local governments, farming peak bodies and farmers would work with health authorities.
There are more than 8000 skilled medical professionals on temporary visas working in the system and they will be allowed to remain.
There are 203,000 international visitors in Australia - typically on a visa lasting three months or less - and 118,000 backpackers.
Backpackers working in critical sectors will be exempt from the six-month work limitation with one employer.
Federal data shows there are 565,000 international students in Australia, mainly studying in the higher education or vocational education sectors.
Students who have been in Australia longer than 12 months who find themselves in financial hardship will be able to access their Australian superannuation.
Of the 139,000 temporary skilled visa holders, on a two-year or four-year visa, will have to leave if they have been laid off.
Travellers stuck in paradise
BRITISH backpacker Nathan Maufe, based in Cairns, is ready to go home.
At $12 a night, his hostel is cheap. But the famed party town vibe - the jelly wrestling, pole dancing and pirate bingo nights - is no more.
"Everywhere is dead," the 21-year-old said.
"I came to Cairns two years ago, it was absolutely booming, hundreds of people around, clubs open, reef trips, jungle safaris, a fantastic party scene.
"Now everything is shut down, no pubs, no clubs, and we're stuck on a balcony drinking beer and 'goon' (cask wine)."
Flights home keep getting cancelled, one-way tickets cost $2000, and the budget is tight, Mr Maufe said.
"I don't want to go home, obviously. I came out here to travel. But there's not really any work. I've done my six months farm work, and I'm burning through the savings," he said.
"It's time to go."
He follows the Facebook page "Get us home from Australia" with 3567 members, most commenting about flights, cancellations, refunds and how to get an upgrade to Business Class.
US backpacker Tristan Kuhn, 22, of Texas, is looking for work on a banana or strawberry farm in far north Queensland.
He plans to move from his hostel in Cairns into an Airbnb to self-isolate for two weeks under the new rules.
"My goal was to get a job in hospitality or work on a Reef boat, but obviously there are no jobs,'' he said. "I've applied to 15 different farms, most already had that self-isolation rule. Hopefully I can ride out the next six months doing farm work.
"It's safer for me to stay here than go home to America, where there are nearly 250,000 cases, and it is way more chaotic."
Most of the backpackers he had met were from Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, which are "all are worse off" in the crisis than Australia, he said.
"All the fun has been killed," Mr Kuhn said.
"Cairns seems like a great town, but it's dead, it's a ghost town, all the tourism businesses are closed, all the clubs and bars are closed.
"All I've been able to do is go for a walk down the Esplanade and to the botanic gardens, that's it."
Originally published as Visa holders: Who can stay and who can't