Disparaging stories about backpackers
Over the past few weeks there have been several stories published taking aim at backpackers for exacerbating Australia’s coronavirus problem. Whether it be backpackers being blamed for the Bondi outbreak or locals confronting hostel dwellers for blatant social distancing violations, being a foreigner in Australia right now is becoming more challenging.
While it’s true that two tourists in Bondi contracted the virus and a few backpackers in Sydney broke social distancing rules, it is also true that thousands of travellers are in fact complying with the guidelines set out by the government.
Additionally, the biggest single source of coronavirus cases in Australia came from the Ruby Princess cruise ship, passengers were permitted to leave without being tested, even after it was known that the ship had confirmed cases on board. This was clearly a blunder on the part of public officials or the cruise ship as the incident is now under criminal investigation.
Yet, because of the negative perception created by several headlines, along with other underlying factors caused by this pandemic, backpackers feel that they are being discriminated against and many are having a hard time finding work. All of this is making it increasingly difficult for them to financially sustain in the country and many of them don't even have the option of flying home.
Backpackers can't find work and many can't fly home
To better understand the unique challenges faced by working holiday visa holders in Australia right now, we spoke with Celina, a GAFFL user and an Argentine backpacker who is currently staying in Brisbane struggling to find work.
Celina has been in Australia for 16 months on a 417 visa. She recently finished quarantining for 14 days after her move across state lines from Sydney to Brisbane because of the cheaper cost of living. In Brisbane she lives in a home with international students and Australian citizens.
She’s been sending emails daily looking for farm work but hasn’t had any luck yet, she knows that many others are in the same position as her.
While remaining hopeful, Celina’s biggest fear is going broke. “I’m worried about running out of money, but I hope, from now on that I am finished with my quarantine, I can find something.”
Additionally, Celina doesn’t have the option of going home to Argentina right now. From what she’s heard there aren’t any flights right now. There are also no flights directly from Australia to Argentina, there’s an option with a stopover in Chile, however, these flights are very expensive and she’s heard that it’s impossible to transfer to Argentina from Chile.
Even if flights start becoming available for her to go home, Celina is unsure if she’d take that opportunity. After all, the situation in Argentina is worse than it is in Australia, and she worries about the long term economic impact that coronavirus will have on her home country.
She thinks that she can be in Australia without a job, for another 2 months until she runs out of money. and that’s factoring in the recent superannuation changes announced by the Federal Government.
Recent changes made by the government to help backpackers
Earlier this month the Federal Government announced that backpackers will be allowed to extend their stays in Australia and temporary visa holders will get early access to their superannuation. According to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, the goal for extending the visas of working holiday makers and seasonal workers is to ensure farmers have enough labour to plant and pick their crops. To that effect he says, “if you're prepared to stay in this country and help us get through this coronavirus then we'll extend your visa, only if they are working in agriculture or a critical industry.”
This means that if your visa is expiring and you are working in a critical sector like agriculture, but haven’t completed the 3 or 6 months of specified work required to apply for a second or third working holiday visa, and are unable to return to their home country can apply for COVID-19 pandemic Temporary Activity Visa (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Agreement Event (AGEE) stream visa and will not incur a visa application charge.
Additionally, under these new conditions the Government is also making the workers exempt from the rule that says they cannot stay with the same employer for more than six months.
While these measures taken by the government are good first steps, more needs to be done. It's clear that many backpackers are here for the duration of the health crisis.
A recent survey undertaken by Union NSW showed that 70% temporary migrants are unemployed in Australia as a direct result of the COVID-19 crises. 50% of migrants are living off savings and expect to run out of money in a matter of weeks. 43% are already skipping meals on a regular basis and 25% cannot pay rent. 98.7% of temporary migrants receive no government support.
It's clear that more needs to be done.