It Really Pays to Belong…

Today I read this challenging piece from the ABC, “This restaurant owner received 470 job applications — only two were Australians“ (8/8/20)

regarding the situation of many migrant and seasonal workers in Australia who do not qualify for the Australian Government’s JobSeeker or JobKeeper benefits. 

As an expert in modern slavery intervention and as a small business owner, I am mindful of the potential for exploitation when opportunism turns sour and foreign workers are left unprotected; when their “do whatever it takes” mentality is not fully valued. I deeply value what people from other cultures have brought to Australia, and couldn’t imagine life without a multicultural flavour.

The article reminded me of my own experience in Spain a few years ago as a foreigner who strangely had full access to practically everything, courtesy of my UK Citizenship by Descent. Thanks to my British-born parents, I could live and work anywhere within the European Union, despite being born in Australia. Access is freedom. 

Within a month of arriving in Madrid, I was granted permanent residency, a license to work, and free access to health care and a range of economic benefits should my situation become difficult. All I had to do was to learn language and the ‘system’, apply for work, and get to know what I didn’t know I needed to know (which I must say I didn’t quite master). 

This contrasted greatly with a man I befriended there who was an asylum seeker from Congo-Brazzaville. His movements in Madrid were monitored daily by the federal police, who would hound him for his papers. Despite being a qualified and experienced maths teacher, his options for work and movements were very limited. To survive, he had to get up every morning at 4am to work in the fresh food markets to sort out the produce for the day’s trading. It took him 7 years to get temporary residency. Needless to say our experiences in this highly favoured country were poles apart. 

While I appreciate all that the Australian government, federal and state, are doing to manage the current health and economic crisis, I cannot help but think we need to do more to honour those who come here to give, and give in ways that many in the privileged class that I am part of are not prepared to give. Yes, Australia is a ‘paradise’ that many foreigners only dream to experience, but I think we can provide a better deal for all who have no lineage here. If the public purse cannot support them (doubtful), what incentives could be given to say large corporations to sponsor their livelihood? I welcome your thoughts on how we can support the 1 million temporary visa holders who are currently shut out.

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