SYDNEY - There is a call for an amnesty for the estimated 100,000 undocumented workers in Australia because of fears they could miss out on the coronavirus vaccine.
They are an unseen workforce in Australia, from cleaning to hospitality and farm work. Of the estimated 100,000 undocumented workers, about two-thirds are employed in agriculture. Without a valid working visa, they are in jobs illegally.
Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said they were “unlawful non-citizens.” But farmers, unions and some politicians are now calling for an amnesty to allow undocumented workers to be given employment visas.
The federal government has promised a vaccine for everyone in Australia, regardless of their visa status, including asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their refugee claims. But there are concerns undocumented workers will not come forward fearing deportation.
Dr. Joanna Howe, a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide, said it is a problem that needs fixing. “There are certainly public health risks that the government may assume that it has vaccinated broadly the Australian community, but then there are these pockets that escape that because they have got no incentive to come forward,” she said. “In fact, they are extremely fearful of accessing the vaccine.”
Australian authorities will soon require vaccine recipients to divulge where they were born and the languages they speak. The data will help show the government if certain minority communities are avoiding the vaccine.
After a slow start, health officials insist that more than 500,000 vaccinations a week will soon be given in Australia. A mass inoculation program began last month with the Pfizer-BioNTech drug.
Domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to deliver 1 million doses each week in Australia by the end of the month.
New South Wales, the nation’s most populous state, has gone 50 consecutive days without a locally acquired COVID-19 case.
Australia has recorded 29,000 coronavirus infections since the pandemic began. The Health Department says 909 people have died.