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Hande Thinks of Australia as Home, but the Visa System Won’t Let Her Get Comfortable

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The Migrant Workers’ Centre, a union-backed legal and advocacy service for migrant workers, has been surveying visa holders’ experiences. Solidarity with our fellow workers on visas!

“I love camping, I love the outdoors, I love beer gardens, I love beach volleyball,” says Hande Denli, 35, a Turkish migrant living in Australia on a Bridging Visa. 

“I feel like Australia is my home. When I speak to friends in Turkey or look at things from Turkey, it feels foreign to me.”

Hande works as a data analyst, assisting hospitality venues with lead generation and sales. She’s a statistician by trade, and it is highly skilled, highly specialised work. 

“My employers value me, and I value them. It’s a good relationship.”

Hande’s application for a 482 visa (Temporary Skill Shortage) has been rejected, and she’s in the process of appealing the decision. She waited 10 months just for that rejection, and was kept in the dark the whole time. Her lawyer says the appeal will probably take about three years, but it could be more. 

She contacted the Migrant Workers’ Centre recently as part of their survey of visa holders’ experiences

“When I got the rejection I was ready to go back to Turkey. Around that time, with everything happening with COVID, I felt like I couldn’t deal with it anymore. But my company really relies on me because of the job that I do! They invested a lot in me and the tools that I use, and they’re really happy with me, so they didn’t want me to leave. They really supported me to apply for the appeal process.”

Hande’s treatment at the hands of the Australian Government shows the dire need for reform of the visa system. Wait times, appeal times, a lack of transparency, and the overall difficulty of achieving permanency all leave migrants living in a state of anxiety and uncertainty. 

“It really affects your mental health,” Hande says.

“Uncertainty is one of the things that really prevents you from focusing on your life. And you don’t feel safe and stable enough to really contribute to the community.

“If I have to go back to Turkey I will struggle, and I’ll definitely miss Australia, but I feel like I’m running out of energy to fight with the Australian Government.”

“You Should Think About Making Your Way Home”

When Scott Morrison made that statement in March of 2020, Hande felt it like a kick in the guts. The Prime Minister had been asked a question about international students, but deftly pivoted to the word “visitor” rather than committing to support for either students or migrant workers. His language conjured a picture of a clueless tourist still intent on getting a pandemic selfie with a quokka, rather than someone with a long-term work or study commitment in Australia. “If you are a visitor in this country, it is time…[trademark Morrison waffle]...to make your way home”.

“How can I forget that?” says Hande, recalling that day. “I didn’t instantly look for flights, because I felt like surely they can’t just tell us to leave.” 

Hande was in secure work, in a role where people depended on her. She didn’t feel like a visitor.  

“A lot of my student friends were getting really frustrated and anxious trying to find their way home. It was a huge panic. Then it became obvious that they were not going to look after us, and that was why they were saying we should just go home.”

As the pandemic played out, this became more and more obvious. No support was provided to migrant workers, even though the logistics of leaving weren’t easy. Many weren’t even able to book flights if they wanted to, because of border closures. 

“I was lucky to have my job, but I did what I could to help others. I actually started a fundraiser to raise some money for students and hospitality workers to support them and get their basic needs met. A lot of people were struggling.”

Hande raised about $4000 through her networks. 

“The government didn’t do anything, so I felt like I had to do something. Australia is a first-world country. It was quite shameful, actually.”

Hande has been making the most of the Australian way of life

Hande has been making the most of the Australian way of life

Hande enjoys the work she does and is supported by her employer, but nothing is certain. Especially in the hospitality industry, times are very tough. If something were to happen to her employment, she would be without a safety net. 

“Whenever there’s news about another lockdown, I always worry about what’s going to happen. Is my company going to be able to provide me with a job? 

“I get a lot of anxiety every time, wondering what’s going to happen. Until I hear from the company, I’m always really nervous.”

Our Loss

Despite her struggle, Hande feels like the biggest loss isn’t for migrant workers, it’s for Australia. 

“If they’re not looking after people who are contributing to this country and helping to improve this country, they’re going to have hard times in the future.”

Matt Kunkel, head of the Migrant Workers Centre, agrees. “Bosses are using visa status to divide the working class. The system keeps people on a merry-go-round of precarious, temporary visas, which has flow-on effects to all workers in Australia.”

In pursuit of equitable working rights for workers regardless of visa status, the Migrant Workers’ Centre is gathering the experiences and struggles of visa holders in this survey.

The Australian Government is currently reviewing Australia's migration programs, and workers’ voices need to be a part of that review.

“Too frequently, it is the voice of business that drives policy regarding migration,” says Matt

“This survey will allow migrant workers to tell their stories and show the Government that urgent changes are necessary to provide stronger pathways to permanence for those who want it.”

The Migrant Workers’ Centre has also started this petition to demand that all workers in Australia, regardless of immigrantion status, be able to access permanent residency. All workers in our community deserve a secure life and place to call home.

The Migrant Workers’ Centre, a union-backed legal and advocacy service for migrant workers, has been surveying visa holders’ experiences. Solidarity with our fellow workers on visas!

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