Since the start of March, Ghana Shyam Timilsina has lost two jobs, pulled all his money out of superannuation and had his life turned upside down.
Of all the difficult moments the 29-year-old from Nepal has recently faced, one stands out.
It was when he found out he wasn’t eligible for JobKeeper or JobSeeker because he’s on a temporary visa.
“That was the hardest thing for me,” says Ghana, who has been working and studying in Australia since 2015.
“I’ve done all the right things. I abide by the law, I pay taxes, I’ve never even had a parking ticket.”
Ghana is hoping business will pick up soon — because if it doesn’t, he’s not sure what he’ll do.
“If there is no aid program from the Australian Government, then people are going to be on the street for sure.”
The dilemma Ghana faces if he returns to Nepal
Ghana spent about six weeks unemployed, but he’s recently picked up about 10 hours a week at a Melbourne restaurant, which is just enough to cover his rent.
For everything else, he’s relying on his savings, which are quickly running out.
While the Government has advised international students to go home, Ghana says he’s not sure if he could get a flight to Nepal. And even if he could, he might not be able to afford it.
On top of that, he’s worried if he leaves he might not be able to get back into the country.
It would mean he couldn’t complete the commercial cookery course he’s enrolled in, which has already cost him thousands.
Even after withdrawing his super, Ghana is struggling
Ghana first came to Australia to study a Masters of Business Administration, which he completed in 2018.
He couldn’t find corporate work because he was on a temporary visa, so he started washing dishes at a childcare centre and helping in the kitchen at an Italian restaurant.
He enjoyed the work, so decided to return to study to become a chef.
The course he’s taking costs $11,000. And because of the coronavirus restrictions, it’s currently being delivered entirely online.
“There are no practical classes or kitchen classes at the moment,” he says.
“Normally if the course is online, it’s way cheaper. They haven’t said anything about it, so next time they send me the bill, they might send me full-time fees.”
Ghana is eligible for an $1,100 grant from the Victorian Government for international students, and he’s also withdrawn as much as he can from his superannuation — about $6,000.
“That’s just enough to survive for another two months or so, including the tuition fees,” he says.
“With rent, food and everything else, I’m living on a very strict budget and being very conscious about how I spend my money.
“I have to pay the college, if I don’t pay the tuition fee, they cancel my enrolment, and it will cancel my visa. So it’s very tough.”
How the JobKeeper program is affecting people on temporary visas
Because temporary visa holders are ineligible for the JobKeeper subsidy, some employers are choosing to let them go.
It’s what happened to Ghana.
While his colleagues at the childcare centre were put on JobKeeper, he was simply called into the office one day and told his employment was being terminated.
It’s a story that Zana Bytheway, executive director at employment legal rights service JobWatch, says is becoming increasingly common.
“Temporary visa workers and international students are precluded [from] the JobKeeper wage subsidy … and therefore employers are saying they won’t continue their employment because they won’t get their wage subsidy,” she says.
“My concern is essentially that they are in a situation where they have no work, they can’t pay for their rent, and they can’t simply go home because of travel restrictions.
“And the added problem is that if they’re then destitute, they will be unable to adhere to social distancing measures and potentially fall ill.”
In recent weeks, Ghana has applied for jobs in aged care, supermarkets and cleaning without any luck.
For him, the impact on his mental health has been even worse than the virus itself.
“We’re living isolated, far from home, with no money in our pockets,” he says.
“I speak with my friends, and they’re telling me they have the same problems. They’re depressed, they’re worried, they can’t sleep at night.
“I’m trying my best to look after my mental health by doing meditation and yoga, but lots of people are going through depression and things like that.”