Backpackers have been left in limbo in the Riverina where they are struggling to find work and, in some cases, a place to live as the coronavirus crisis escalates.
Working holidaymakers on 417 or 462 visas are finding it difficult to get their usual mainstay of farm work as businesses close or put a freeze on hiring transient staff. Workers on these visas are not currently eligible for financial support from the government.
For some temporary visa-holders such as Estonian Katlin Vau in Griffith, it would now be too difficult to fly home. Ms Vau, who has been in the country for two years and has moved from a 417 to a student visa, is working part-time for a company where she can do at least some of her work from home if needed.
"One thing is being worried about myself here. I'm a young person and I think I would manage a little bit better if I get the virus, but I'm also worried about people around me, older or younger," Ms Vau said.
She met her partner, Joe, a backpacker from Ireland, when the pair were working on a NSW cotton farm and together they have returned to Griffith for a second time.
He had been planning a trip back home to visit his family after two years away, which he made the difficult decision to cancel just days before his flight was scheduled.
Ms Vau, who until recently was driving back and forth between the Riverina and Sydney for college, has also decided to stay in Griffith where she is almost 15,000km away from her own family.
"It's just difficult knowing that I'm here and if anything happens back at home there are not too many options to go back there and help or anything ... being so far away, it is stressful," she said.
"Travelling either way is very difficult now and people have to be cautious."
Finnish 417 visa holder Sofia Linnoinen, who arrived in Australia in September, came to Wagga last week after coronavirus restrictions starting looming over her job in a Melbourne cafe. Ms Linnoinen, who is staying with friends, worked as a nurse in Finland and has started applying for carer work here as agricultural opportunities dry up.
"The backpacker groups on Facebook are full of, you know, 'Where can I find a job? ... How can I cross the borders?'," she said. "A lot of people are wondering if they should go home or stay and how they can find any income ... it might be getting more difficult."
Those wanting to extend their 417 visa for a second year must work for three months in an approved industry in order to do so, a condition which may prove impossible to fulfill under coronavirus restrictions.
Ms Linnoinen completed some of her required work at a banana farm near Cairns shortly after she arrived in Australia, but has two months left to go.
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said any non-citizens seeking to extend their stay in Australia should review information on the department's website and apply for another visa. "Any visa application will be assessed considering the COVID-19 enhanced border measures and an applicant's individual circumstances," they said.
Temporary workers who want to extend their stay will have to apply for an extension before their current visa expires.
The Daily Advertiser was directed by the department to the transcript of a press conference held by Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge on March 20.
"I would say to those people that if they cannot exit Australia or want to stay in Australia, then please let the Department of Immigration know as quickly as possible and inform them of your circumstance. We will be able to deal with those individual cases," Minister Tudge said.
The minister said the department was "cognisant" of the fact that many regional areas and their industries relied on the labour of temporary workers.
Labor Senator Deborah O'Neill said government financial support was needed for temporary visa holders who were "vital to the farm sector".
"Without financial support they are effectively incentivised to keep working even if they are unwell and contract COVID-19. That missing element means a known and preventable health threat to rural Australia remains without response," Senator O'Neill said.
Ms Linnoinen hails from from Finland, one of 10 countries whose citizens are eligible for at least some Medicare coverage in Australia under the 417 visa.
"I think the health system here is really good when you have the Medicare, but then they don't provide it for many [other] countries," she said.
Her friend Patrick Deprie, a backpacker from Germany, will have to pay for any medical treatment he undergoes and then claim it on his travel insurance.
Mr Deprie has already done three months of farm work and is trying to find a new job in Wagga. "Anything is hard to get now during this time," he said.
Under usual circumstances, Jerilderie publican and stud farm owner Jodi Allen hires backpackers as her farm is an approved industry for 417 visa extension work.
Now Ms Allen, whose pub is shut and farm is idle, is offering free accommodation at her Colony Inn motel for stranded backpackers.
"We basically won't have any income and that means even if we have work to do we can't really pay wages to people," Ms Allen said.
"But we do have our motel, which is also empty because we're not open for business, and there's a lot of backpackers who are not just looking for work but are living out of their cars or they're in limited-time accommodation ... they literally have nowhere to go."
Ms Allen, who only has three rooms to spare, received about 100 messages within a day of posting her ad in a backpacker group on Facebook.
"This is not their country, they have no family support here. They actually cannot get home ... a lot of them only have limited cash reserves and couldn't afford a ticket home." she said.
Ms Allen said she would refer some backpackers to other Riverina locals who had since offered assistance.
"It would be nice if more people were able to put aside the sort of financial considerations and just want to help each other," she said.