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Canberra
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts

Measures to support Canberra-based foreign nationals

Canberra-based foreign nationals, such as international students and temporary visa-holders who are ineligible for Commonwealth assistance programs, will be able to access a $450,000 ACT Government support package.

ACT Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Tertiary Education, Chris Steel, yesterday announced a partnership between the ACT Government and the ACT Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Humanitarian (RASH) Coordination Committee, the Australian Red Cross and local tertiary institutions.

“Over the past month we have been advocating to the Federal Government for people on temporary visas to be covered by JobKeeper and remain connected with work,” Minister Steel said.

“The Australian Government has refused and, as a result, many Canberrans on temporary visas have now lost work and now have literally no income, and no support like other Canberrans have through JobSeeker.”

This latest package for certain foreign nationals adds to the ACT Government’s ‘Jobs for Canberrans package’, which prioritised immediate short-term employment to casual or semi-skilled workers on temporary visas ineligible for JobSeeker and JobKeeper.

The Canberra Relief Network is also providing food for temporary visa holders and ACT funding has been announced to help Canberrans facing homelessness or experiencing domestic and family violence.

Executive Director of Companion House, Kathy Ragless AM, said the ACT currently has approximately 200 residents who are asylum seekers and 300 residents on temporary protection and safe haven enterprise visas.

“This funding will help us ensure these people get the help they need, including emergency accommodation, legal advice and access to health services,” Ms Ragless said.

Both the University of Canberra (UC) and Australian National University (ANU) welcomed the ACT Government’s announcement.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said international students and other foreign nationals were a vital part of the ACT community and it was essential we assisted them.

“This generous funding from the ACT Government will mean our international students can pay their rent, buy food and cover their bills, allowing them to concentrate on what they are here to do – getting a world-class education,” he said.

The ACT Government’s funding will build on existing measures already enacted by ANU, which includes $1 million in relief funding for domestic and international students who are facing financial hardship as a consequence of COVID-19.

“We’ve also provided a hardship scholarship for our international students taking our courses overseas, and up to $5,000 each to offset the costs caused by COVID-19 and related travel restrictions,” Professor Schmidt said.

COVID-19 testing and healthcare free for all

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicare ineligible people requiring testing, treatment or other public health supports related to COVID-19 will have free access to medical care.

This includes pathology, diagnostic, pharmaceutical and outpatient care in the ACT public health system.

Medicare ineligible patients include people who: are not an Australian permanent resident; or are not entitled to hold a valid Medicare card; or are temporary entrants or temporary visa holders; or are not from a country that has a Reciprocal Health Care Arrangement with Australia.

Some international students will fall under those categories and therefore qualify.

This policy applies only during the COVID-19 pandemic period, will be backdated to 21 January 2020, and costs will be jointly shared by the ACT and Commonwealth governments.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the announcement was not made from a fear that some Medicare ineligible people may not have been presenting for testing or care.

“I don’t think we’ve got any evidence that that is the case so far; I think we would have started seeing some people who were actually unwell turning up to receive hospital treatment and the like.

“We really just want to make sure that everyone in the community is confident that they can seek testing and treatment,” she said.

Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts