Last year, the Morrison government cruelly locked temporary visa holders out of JobKeeper and JobSeeker. Not only did this move leave over a million workers without support during the peak of the pandemic, but we’re now hearing from workers on temporary visas who had their JobKeeper applications erroneously approved and are now being asked by the ATO to pay back their JobKeeper income.
We know from the hideous experience of Robodebt what a serious psychological toll this can take on people already in a precarious work and living situation.
Hassan versus the ATO
Hassan, who recently joined the Migrant Workers Centre as an organiser, is one such worker who was affected. Hassan explains:
“When the Government introduced the JobKeeper program in 2020, I was an Uber driver. I had no income because of the COVID restrictions. I asked my tax agent if I was eligible for the JobKeeper payment as a sole trader. He said yes, and he also contacted the ATO to double check. The person at the ATO who answered the phone said, ‘Just submit an application. We will review your application. If you are eligible, you will receive the payment. If you are not eligible, we will not pay you.’”
Hassan had friends who were international students and had their applications rejected, but Hassan’s was approved. He says, “I received the JobKeeper payment, but a few months later, the ATO sent me a letter saying that I was not eligible and now I had to repay $27,900”.
Hassan contested this repayment - as a single parent without income during COVID-19, he couldn’t afford the repayment, and he felt he should not be penalised for a mistake he didn’t make. After requesting a review, the ATO decreased the amount to $8,400. Hassan still refused to accept this, contested it once again and the ATO finally retracted the repayment completely.
More workers affected
Outrageously, Hassan’s case was not an isolated incident. The following month, he started working at the Migrant Workers Centre and a worker came to us for assistance with the same issue.
The worker was an independent contractor who was told he could apply for JobKeeper, was approved, and then asked to pay back $13,500 to the ATO. Hassan says, "He was crying because he does not speak English, he's not reading, he's not writing — he said, 'I did not make any mistake,'" Luckly, Hassan knew from experience that the worker could contest the case. “We were able to help the worker submit an objection to the ATO. Last Friday, the worker called the Migrant Workers Centre and thanked us for helping him. The ATO had cancelled his repayment order.”
Despite these wins, it’s becoming clear this is a wider issue affecting many other migrant workers. Hassan spoke about his story to ABC, and since then, more workers in the Migrant Workers Centre’s network have come forwards with a similar story to tell. If you’re a worker who’s been asked to repay your JobKeeper income - the Migrant Workers Centre can assist. Fill out this form and organisers will be in touch.
We’re hearing from workers on temporary visas who had their JobKeeper applications erroneously approved and are now being asked by the ATO to pay back their JobKeeper income. It’s causing serious stress for people already victimised by the Morrison Government.