Temporary visa holders are an important constituent of the vibrant Australian community – some are studying as full-fee paying international students, some are here to visit family and friends, many to fill in essential skill shortages, and others to work and holiday. As per estimates by the Australian government, there were 2.17 million people presently in Australia on a temporary visa, as of 4th April, 2020.
Because COVID-19 does not see nationality, borders, race, or visa status – the pandemic has affected Australians and non-Australians alike. And as the government looks after Australians, the non-Australians were left out in the federal government’s relief measures. No matter the difficulties they were faced with, many temporary visa holders made peace with the federal government’s relief measures – only to be discriminated by their respective state government’s too.
Between being told to go home amidst a global pandemic, and the inability to do so for many temporary visa-holders, imagine being discriminated by the state government on a basic thing such as rental assistance?
Between New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, home to the highest number of temporary visa holders, only Victoria has told renters that the assistance will not discriminate between temporary and permanent visa holders.
“There are no citizenship or permanent residency requirements for applicants. Applicants that may be eligible include casual workers on holiday and working visas, skilled visas, seasonal workers, New Zealand citizens and all refugee and temporary protection visa holders”, Housing Vic’s website reads.
In NSW, only those who are eilgible for assistance from Commonwealth JobKeeper program, as per an ABC News report, which means temporary visa holders are excluded from the NSW coronavirus rental assistance program.
Meanwhile, in QLD, one of the criteria for eligibilty of a COVID-19 Rental Grant is that “the applicant is an Australian citizen, permanent resident, or have a temporary or permanent protection visa or possess a bridging visa.”
Listed below are the rental relief measures as announced by each state:
- AUD 440 million package of land tax relief, split evenly between commercial tenancies and residential tenancies.
- Six-month moratorium on new forced evictions if the tenant is in rental arrears because they are suffering financial hardship due to coronavirus. It applies to tenants who have lost 25 per cent or more of their income. All rental arrears however are payable eventually.
- Landlord or managing agent must enter into negotiations with a tenant who is struggling to make rental payments.
- Landlords eligible for a land tax concession of up to 25 per cent for the rest of this calendar year.
- The government has offered a $500m package comprised of $420m in land tax relief for commercial and residential tenancies and $80m for residential tenants in hardship.
- Tenants can apply for grants of up to $2,000 from an $80m assistance fund. To be eligible, renters will need to have registered their revised agreement or gone through mediation, have less than $5,000 in savings and still be paying at least 30% of their income in rent.
- Evictions will be banned for residential tenancies for six months, except in some circumstances, and rent increases paused for the same period.
- $400m land tax relief program for residential and commercial tenancies, allowing landlords to apply for a waiver of up to three months and a deferral of three months of land tax.
- The government will make one-off payments of up to four weeks rent (to a maximum of $2,000) for those affected by Covid-19 who do not have access to other financial assistance and meet eligibility criteria, including having $10,000 or less in cash and savings.
- Six-month moratorium on evictions due to rent arrears caused by Covid-19 and property owners will be prohibited from evicting a tenant if their lease expires during the public health crisis.
While the above relief packages are available to citizens/permanent residents of the respective state, temporary visa holders in QLD and NSW are ineligible to apply for the same.
As of 4th April, 2020, there are 565,000 international students in Australia, 139,000 temporary skilled visa holders, and about 118,000 people in Australia on a Working Holiday visa.
With most nations placed under a lockdown, they have no option to remain in Australia – and pay rent.