‘I can’t go home’: Timorese turn to asylum, lost in Australia’s confusing visa system

by Julia Bergin
Temporary migrant workers from Timor Leste are failing miserably in their quest for asylum, learning the hard way that a protection visa is neither a financial safety net nor a means to work.

Temporary migrant workers from Timor Leste are failing miserably in their quest for asylum, learning the hard way that a protection visa is neither a financial safety net nor a means to work.

East Timorese workers board a bus during the NSW berry harvest in 2020 (Image: Dr Michael Rose/Supplied)
East Timorese workers board a bus during the NSW berry harvest in 2020 (Image: Dr Michael Rose/Supplied)

Hundreds of East Timorese temporary migrant workers are applying for asylum once in Australia under the mistaken belief that it’s an out from the “slave”-like conditions of their current visas. Most do not qualify for permanent protection, which leaves them stranded in Australia with no visa or work rights — a fast-track to unlawful status.

A Crikey investigation has revealed that desperation and false information are largely to blame.

‘I want to work, just not this job’

The East Timorese who come to Australia as part of the seasonal worker program (SWP) and Pacific labour scheme (PLS) — now under the umbrella (or shade) of the PALM (Pacific Australia Labour Mobility) program — serve a single employer for a fixed term. They do one job and one job only, and then go home. If they opt out early, they also go home. Once home, it can be difficult to return. The labour is mostly factory- or farm-based and not for the faint-hearted (aka Australians).

Read more about how the visa system confuses desperate East Timorese temporary migrant workers.

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