Hundreds of overseas hospitality workers face the prospect of being stranded with no work and no income support as the COVID-19 crisis rips through the industry in Ballarat.
As several more businesses shut indefinitely - with the Lake View Hotel closing on Tuesday morning joining the Ballarat Golf Club and the George Hotel on Lydiard Street as casualties this week - even more workers face a precarious future, with queues to Centrelink surging.
Those on sponsored visas who used to keep many of the city's pubs, bars and cafes ticking over do not even have Centrelink relief as option. They are ineligible for crisis payments as they are not residents in the country - and also unable to return home due to the shutdown of the aviation industry.
One of those facing a complete halt to their income is Heshan Perera, a chef from Sri Lanka, who has had his shifts at the Provincial Hotel dry up in recent weeks.
Along with his wife, an Italian citizen, he has no other source of potential income, and neither have been able to get any assistance from their home countries.
"We are really helpless," he said. "We are trying our best to come up with answers. We have some sort of savings, it's not much - we can survive for two to three weeks, maybe a month."
"I have a car, rent to pay. All we are looking for is something to survive our day-to-day needs, that's all, just temporarily until this is over."
Mr Perera believes he is one of many people across the city and nationwide in the same precarious position.
The Provincial Hotel's Simon Coghlan drew the situation to local media attention on Tuesday, after another of his overseas employees went to Centrelink and discovered they did not qualify for any support.
"It's heartbreaking - I find it pretty amazing they've completely been forgotten about," Mr Coghlan said.
"To see these guys, the way they uproot their lives to come to Australia for better lives, the hoops they have to jump through to get the visas - they can't go anywhere. There has to be a safety net of some description."
He said that while he hoped to keep trading, the income it was likely to generate would not be enough.
"Venues that are unable to continue trading are unable to provide any income. They are often small businesses and there is literally no cash there," he said.
Carla Wilshire, the Chief Executive Officer of Migration Council Australia, said there were lots of people in the same predicament. She said she was advocating for urgent changes at a federal level.
She said between one in four to one in six people working in tourism and hospitality were on temporary visas - and that they were not entitled to federal help at the moment.
"That industry has been so significantly affected by the shutdown for obvious health and safety reasons, that has left a lot of people stranded effectively without income," she said.
From a public health and safety perspective, we cannot have people during a global pandemic who are stuck here unable to afford shelter and foodCarla Wilshire, Migration Council Australia
There are no precise figures for the number affected in Ballarat, although one industry source estimated as many as 500 people could be in same situation as Mr Perera.
On Tuesday, they were offered a glimmer of hope when Social Services Minister Anne Ruston told AAP that the government was looking into all visa categories to see if foreign workers should be given welfare help.
Ms Ruston now has wide powers to make changes to welfare payments without needing parliamentary approval for the rest of the year.
I am trying not to think too far ahead, otherwise I would just go crazyCafe worker, central Ballarat
Meanwhile on a very quiet Lydiard Street on Tuesday lunchtime, most restaurants and cafes were shut, with a handful remaining open for take-outs. An overseas worker at one said: "I am trying not to think too far ahead, otherwise I would just go crazy."
Cafes and restaurants are now subject to tight restrictions with the possibility of an automatic shutdown if customers consume food and drink on site.
While some businesses have adapted to carry on as best they can, many owners are unsure how long they will be able to keep their venues open - especially if further measures such as a complete lockdown are introduced.
There were around 7,600 people in Ballarat working within the accommodation and food services according to statistics released last November. Numbers have already plummeted, with industry bracing for more cuts in the days ahead.
One business owner, who did not wish to be named, spoke to The Courier shortly after adding his venue to the growing list of indefinite closures in the city.
"It's f**ked," he said, with tears in his eyes. "See you on the other side."
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