Up to 220,000 Kiwis living in Australia have no access to social security support there, and many are likely to lose their jobs in the Covid-19 recession.
A newly released Cabinet paper outlines the staggering numbers of Kiwis in Australia who have little to no safety net, and could soon be looking for work or support here.
New Zealanders in Australia have been included in some of the Australian Government's immediate Covid-19 support measures, the April 3 paper notes, including a wage subsidy scheme. Kiwis can also access their superannuation if in financial difficulty.
"Some New Zealanders in Australia are still likely to lose work because of Covid-19, if their companies are ineligible for the subsidy, or choose to reduce staff regardless, or if they do not qualify for other reasons," the paper notes.
"Because of their visa status, many New Zealanders have little to no access to the Australian welfare system if they do become sick or unemployed."
New Zealand officials' first preference is to keep lobbying Australian Social Services Minister Anne Ruston. She has powers to extend support to individuals and groups of visa holders, the Cabinet paper notes, and support has previously been extended to Kiwis during state emergencies, including the recent bush fires.
Other parts of the document were blanked out before its release today. After one such redaction, it was noted that "although MSD has a current process for paying benefit support to an overseas bank account for known clients, this is far more complex and resource-intensive compared to making payments to a New Zealand bank account".
The New Zealand diaspora in Australia numbers about 650,000. Access to Australian social security for that group varies considerably:
• About 200,000 arrived in Australia before February 2001 and are classed as "special category visa holders", and get full social security entitlements available to permanent residents.
• About 200,000-220,000 arrived after February 2001 but have lived there for 10 years or more. They can get a once-only payment of the unemployment or sickness benefit for up to six months.
• Another 200,000-220,000 Kiwis (who came after 2001 and have lived in Australia for fewer than 10 years) have no access to social security.
Last month Australia's acting immigration minister Alan Tudge advised New Zealanders there without means of support to plan to return home.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison this week agreed to implement a "safe travel zone" between the countries as soon as possible.