Undocumented migrants deserve justice

The National Cabinet (Prime Minister and state and territory premiers and chief ministers)

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Banner artwork by Lee Lai.

Undocumented people provide critical labour and care services for people in Australia, but they have been left out of the federal and state governments’ COVID-19 crisis response. Solidarity with undocumented migrants is essential if we want to stop the pandemic. We want a world where no one is left behind – especially in times like these.

To: The National Cabinet (Prime Minister and state and territory premiers and chief ministers)
From: [Your Name]

Dear National Cabinet,

We are gravely concerned that the rights and lives of undocumented migrant communities are being blatantly ignored in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Health, welfare, movement, and asylum are fundamental human rights. We believe that everyone needs to be included in the pandemic response, regardless of their legal status.

There are between 60,000 and 100,000 undocumented people (people without visas) currently in Australia. Undocumented migrants work in essential services during the crisis including farms, factories, abbatoirs, construction, transport and cleaning. Despite this, their work is not valued. They earn poverty wages, work under exploitative conditions, and are not offered workplace benefits such as health care, paid sick leave, or access to income support. This means that undocumented workers not only have a higher risk of exposure to the virus, but are also likely to be forced to work if they are sick. If they seek medical treatment, they face the possibility of detention and deportation.

We call for an amnesty for undocumented migrants so they can seek treatment, safety, and employment without fear of detention or deportation during the pandemic.

State and federal governments need to act now to guarantee:

1. Medicare for All

All people should be entitled to receive medical care during the crisis – doctors’ advice, hospital treatment and ambulance cover – without cost. Undocumented people should not be forced to conceal their sickness or be reluctant to seek medical help, thus placing themselves at higher risk during the pandemic.

2. Information Firewall with Immigration

All doctors and hospitals in Australia must commit to an information firewall with the Department of Home Affairs and Australian Border Force. Undocumented migrants cannot risk being reported if they present for medical care.

3. Universal Basic Income for Undocumented Workers

None of the income support measures announced by the federal government provide for undocumented migrants in any way. The federal government must extend a minimum basic income guarantee to all during the COVID-19 crisis, irrespective of their visa status. This is the only way that workers’ rights and livelihoods can be fairly protected, and workers can be spared from having to work through illness, putting themselves in danger of serious complications.

4. No Detention or Deportation

Together with prisons, detention centres are some of the highest risk environments for the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Home Affairs must stop all raids and detection activities, which will only place people in high-risk detention environments for an indefinite period while international travel remains closed. The federal government must commit to safe long-term housing and financial support for people who require new quarantine and living arrangements.

5. Amnesty for Undocumented Workers

Undocumented workers do some of the most dangerous, low-paid work in the country. During the current crisis, undocumented migrants deserve security which can only be guaranteed by formal legal status and being permitted to seek legal employment in Australia. These reforms may encourage employers and undocumented workers to take part in the overall efforts to prevent COVID-19 from further spreading.