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New report on women on temporary visas

Mother and baby
Mother and baby

Women on temporary visas and with the services that work with them tell us that women who come to Australia as ‘temporary’ migrants are very vulnerable to poor health outcomes.

In Australia, there’s a stark division between people who are considered ‘temporary’ and those considered ‘permanent’. This has created an inequitable system where ‘temporary’ migrants often forgo health care as they are forced to prioritise other cascading financial pressures.

The women we talked to told us that:

• They delay accessing health care because of cost.

• Private Health Cover does not always meet their health needs. The system isexpensive and slow and does not cover all health expenses.

• Health crisis and financial crisis are intertwined leaving them with significant debts or needing to access emergency relief.

• The Australian health system is difficult to navigate because of cultural barriers, language barriers and unfamiliarity.

• Visa requirements and working conditions are significant stressors that lead to mental and physical health challenges.

• The opacity of the visa system and the sense of being ‘temporary’ in the long-term has negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing.

The women’s stories and discussions we had with other services highlighted that sexual and reproductive health care carried particularly high risks. We heard that:

• Private Health Cover leaves many women who have babies to cover their own antenatal and maternal health care costs.

• Women incur large debts as a result of taking up antenatal and birth care in Tasmania.

• Services are concerned that pregnant women are “rationing” or delaying regular maternity checkups as a way of managing cost.

• Women are likely to incur more costs because of their pregnancy if they live in the North West of Tasmania.

Antenatal care is critically important for the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies with direct consequences in terms of birth complications, even morbidity. Delaying or rationing care can mean more adverse health impacts, bigger health costs for individuals and more complex interventions required from the health system. Early intervention is crucial, but the women tell us that cost stops them from accessing the health care they need.

Front line community sector organisations like Women’s Health Tasmania saw an increase in the numbers of people on temporary visas who needed help after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Border closures and sudden job losses shone a light on how precarious life on a temporary visa is.

While there are a few exceptions, most temporary visa holders:

• Are Medicare ineligible. Some visa holders are mandated to pay for Private Health Cover, but others are not.

• Are not eligible for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

• Are not eligible for social security payments such as Crisis Payments, Commonwealth Rent Assistance, Disability Support or Carers Payments. During COVID-19 temporary visas holders were not eligible for Jobseeker or Jobkeeper payments.

• Are not eligible for state-based concessions systems, such as relief on electricity bills, bus fares, vehicle registration, spectacles, school fees and uniforms, or state services such as the Public Dental Service.

• Are not eligible for housing support through State based homelessness service, Housing Connect.

• Are not eligible for State funded public housing and may have limited eligibility for community housing.

• Generally, are not eligible for Settlement Engagement and Transition Services (SETS) client support.

Temporary visa holders are expected to be totally financially self-reliant while in Australia, including when it comes to health care. But how can this work when temporary visa holders told us that not having a permanent visa was a barrier to employment?

 Evidence also tells us that the nature of workplace relations and the absence of a financial safety net has produced a situation where people on temporary visas are at risk of labour exploitation and poor health outcomes.

Australia is setting up the conditions for a migrant underclass where compounding layers of disadvantage will have long-term negative impacts on peoples’ lives and on their communities.

To read the full report and our recommendations for change go here.