Covid-19 And The Policy-Induced Vulnerabilities Of Temporary Migrant Workers In Australia

30 June 2021

The COVID-19 crisis has starkly exposed the existing economic vulnerability of temporary migrants in many countries. In Australia, many temporary migrants, who were already at risk of marginalisation due to policies restricting their bargaining power and agency (Wright and Clibborn 2020), have lost their jobs and have minimal financial support due to their exclusion from public welfare. We argue that the situation confronting temporary migrant workers is a direct consequence of dramatic and deliberate changes in immigration policy since the 1990s. These policy changes were engineered by the Australian state with the professed aim of increasing labour market efficiency, and led to the abandonment of previous policy arrangements that had successfully enabled social and economic inclusion of migrant workers. The next section examines the shift in Australian immigration selection and control to an exclusive focus on improving the short-term economic contribution of visa policy. The article then analyses how these policies have eroded temporary migrants’ rights and channelled temporary migrants into sectors that have poor quality employment practices. It concludes by outlining proposals to avoid marginalising migrants in the future through a greater focus on socially inclusionary measures.