Temporary Medicare & Social Security for International Students and Temporary Visa Holders

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Petition to Scott Morrison
The Prime Minister of Australia
The Parliament House, Canberra

This petition is for a fair go to International Students and Temporary Visa Holders amid the unfolding global COVID-19 crisis. This is to call on the Government of Australia to extend Medicare and various social security benefits at least temporarily to international students and temporary visa holders to prevent a potential humanitarian crisis.

The unprecedented situation created by our collective effort to contain the transmission of COVID-19 has caused a widespread impact on the everyday life of every soul residing within Australia.

Australian citizens, whether by birth or naturalized, and permanent residents are fortunate to be in this great country that cherishes the principle of fair go to everyone. They have access to the world’s most generous welfare-based system that not only helps them fight the pandemic but also have access to a range of financial support packages made more generous in recent days.  Australia is also a welcoming and safe destination and has consistently ranked among the safest countries in the world.  It is also a no secret that under normal circumstances, both international students and temporary residents have made avail of and appreciated the opportunities provided by this great nation.

While the government has rightly announced the support packages for the general public and businesses, we at the same time seek to highlight the condition of a large number of individuals who are NOT lucky enough to be covered by the Medicare and the social security system.

Hundreds of thousands of International Students studying in Australia come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. While they would have demonstrated that they have the financial capacity to study in Australia, they depend on their jobs for a day to day living and paying the bills. Most of them work in the hospitality industry and a vast majority of them only have casual work. They contribute to the Australian economy in so many ways including paying tax. They have become such an integral part of the “Australian story” that they practically touch almost every aspect of the Australian life.

However, they live from paycheque to paycheque and do not generally have savings. Without a regular income amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, they are at risk of losing their accommodation as well. Their Australian citizen and permanent resident counterparts are also on the same boat, however, they are protected by our top notch social security system as mentioned above, and are eligible for allowances from the Centrelink, e.g. the Newstart Allowance which has just been even further augmented by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and it is a welcome step by the Government that they may receive further benefits as well. The Centrelink benefits, as well as the stimulus packages, require individuals and families to be registered with the Centrelink; International Students and Temporary Residents are not eligible to register with the Centrelink.  These individuals, almost all of whom are in the prime of their life, also generally do not have their close family members in Australia to support them. As a result, thanks to the double whammy of coronavirus pandemic and the expected unemployment, these young men and women have become the most at-risk cohort in Australia. The current situation has made this group of people very vulnerable.

Their access to healthcare is an equally crucial matter. While it is the condition of student or temporary resident visas to have valid private health insurance, accessibility to private health insurance, as compared to an Australian Citizen or permanent resident accessing the Medicare, is not hassle-free. While having a valid Medicare card guarantees free access to most of the public hospital services and other bulk billing outpatient services, without Medicare eligibility, the service providers including hospitals put the onus of payment directly on the sick person. This frequently requires an intense two-way communication between the sick person and the private health funds and at times a significant amount of paperwork. Demand by the health services provider of upfront full fee in many cases, even on the services fully bulk billed to rest of the Australians and permanent residents cause significant financial hardship to this group of individuals. While they would have duly paid their health insurance fees, the upfront payment of fees is something which is beyond the reach of most of these international students from Nepal, China, India and many other nations even during normal times. And therefore, any demand of this nature in these unprecedented times would be but disastrous for these young men and women who have, as we all know and have acknowledged, contributed so much to Australia’s economy, multiculturalism and the social fabric. Financial vulnerability due to reduced income or lack of income and ineligibility to social security benefits, including Centrelink benefit and accessibility to government’s stimulus/support package announced recently, may push these individuals to the brink of a complete break-down.

A lack of resources and support may lead to desperate situations wherein they may be pushed to take risks and when they do develop symptoms, they may not seek help in a timely manner, further increasing risks to themselves and to the larger Australian community.

For those who are concerned that the inclusion of international students and temporary residents may cause financial burden to Australia’s economy may look at the following information and data.

"Overseas students coming to Australia to study who are enrolled in a course that is more than 6 months are generally treated as Australian residents for tax purposes."

https://services.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/389817/international_student_money_matters.pdf

"Australia’s world-class international education sector contributed $34 billion to the local economy last year, an increase of 15.3 percent." 

https://ministers.education.gov.au/tehan/continued-growth-international-education-sector

Hence, after having extensively discussed these matters with community members from various walks of life, and on behalf of hundreds of thousands of international students and communities founded on yesterday’s international students, I call on the Federal Government to extend Medicare and various social security benefits to all the International Students and Temporary Residents on humanitarian grounds during this crisis-ridden time - until this crisis period is over. 
 

Dr Anupam Pokharel, Psychiatrist, Melbourne

and 

Ms. Punam Panta, President – Nepalese Society of Tasmania, Hobart