For Sujith, Priyanga and their two children, winter is coming as it is for so many temporary residents.
Priyanga has lost her job as the assistant director of a childcare centre in Adelaide.
Sujith worked at Andrew Friebe’s restaurant, Maximillian’s in the Adelaide Hills, for over 3 years.
But with the restaurant now closed due to the coronavirus, he too has no work.
With no prospect of another job, no money and no way to get back to Sri Lanka, they face a bleak future with no way to pay the rent and having to rely on charities to ward off starvation.
Having first come to Melbourne in 2008 on five-year student visas, they have now been waiting for their permanent residence visa to be decided since January 2019 – over 15 months.
They fully meet the requirements of the regional migration visa they have applied for. They have lived and worked in Adelaide for the requisite period of time.
They have paid their taxes and become valuable members of the Adelaide community.
“Sujith is just the loveliest man – a pleasure to work with”, says Andrew Friebe.
“Sujith’s dedication to his tasks and his fellow workers is just what any high performing business needs”.
And while the visa Sujith has applied for is a simple one that could be processed very quickly, the Department of Home Affairs says the processing time for this visa is between 24 and 28 months.
A bizarre situation given Prime Minister Morrison in March last year encouraged migration to places like Adelaide as part of his ‘congestion-busting’ population plan. He boasted of the increased interest in these visas and said they would be a high priority.
If processing such simple visas takes 24 to 28 months, the Prime Minister has a very odd view of high priority.
Jimmy is another of Andrew’s staff who now has no work because the restaurant is closed. As he is on a provisional visa, he also has no access to either the Job Keeper or Job Seeker payments.
After seven years in Australia, initially on a student visa in Melbourne and then a temporary graduate visa in Adelaide, in August last year Jimmy was nominated by the SA Government for a provisional regional visa pending application for permanent migration.
Jimmy was much encouraged by the Prime Minister’s call in March last year for new migrants to settle away from the major capital cities.
Just a couple of months ago, Sujith and Jimmy were two of Andrew’s 25 employees in a highly successful and established business.
When the restaurant closed due to the coronavirus, all 25 employees were without work.
For 10 of Andrew’s employees, the Job Keeper payment was a godsend while most of the others will rely on the Job Seeker payment because they were casual employees.
But Jimmy and Sujith are eligible for neither.
‘Go Home’ says the Prime Minister.
Is that really fair Prime Minister when both Sujith and his family and Jimmy have tried to do all you and the SA Government asked of them? Is that the Christian thing to do when they do not even have the money to get home?
To date, Sujith and Jimmy have been supported by Andrew and other’s generosity but with his business facing massive costs and no revenue, that cannot continue much longer.
Andrew is looking into how he and Jimmy and Sujith’s fellow workers may continue to help them out.
The Treasurer has said businesses like Andrew’s can use the subsidies the Government is offering to help temporary entrants such as Sujith and Jimmy.
“The Treasurer really doesn’t appear to understand what is involved in putting a business into hibernation”. Andrew says, “The PAYG subsidy will quickly be swallowed up by fixed costs such as creditors, electricity, insurance, phones, security/monitoring. We then need to have the cash to get up and running again on the other side of the crisis.”
“It makes me angry that the Treasurer is even suggesting otherwise. Whilst I appreciate the Government are managing a lot in a short period of time to flatten the curve of this pandemic, it shows a complete lack of practical and genuine understanding of the position forced onto millions.”
“Hard-working employees like Jimmy and Sujith will be essential to when my restaurant reopens.” says Andrew.
Jimmy and Sujith are just two examples of over a million temporary entrants facing destitution if they cannot find a job or get home.
How much longer can the Government continue to ignore their plight?
Does it really want to see queues at charities the size of the queues at Centrelink?
Abul Rizvi was a senior official in the Department of Immigration from the early 1990s to 2007 when he left as Deputy Secretary. He was awarded the Public Service Medal and the Centenary Medal for services to development and implementation of immigration policy, including in particular the reshaping of Australia’s intake to focus on skilled migration. He is currently doing a PhD on Australia’s immigration policies.