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AAT fee increase undermines efforts to keep migrant women safe from violence

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AAT Fee increase

The Morrison Government went to great lengths to frame the recent Federal Budget as evidence of its commitment to protecting women from violence.

New funding for domestic violence prevention and frontline services and creation of the post of Minister for Women’s Safety was front and centre in the budget pitch. The extension of pilot programs providing emergency payments and additional funding for legal services gave hope that the government was finally responding to calls for much needed support for women on temporary visas.

Unfortunately, recent changes mean it is a case of two steps forward, one step back.

On 1 July, the cost of appealing most visa decisions at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT Fee) increased 64% from $1,826 to $3,000. This whopping increase will mean that many people will be unable to seek independent merits review if the government refuses their visa application.

This change will particularly impact women on temporary visas who leave violent relationships.

A recent study by the Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre and Harmony Alliance found that 40% of women on temporary visas had experienced domestic and family violence, with migration status often used as form of control. Migrant women with Australian children are particularly at risk, with fears that they will be separated from their children preventing many women from seeking help.

These findings align with IARC’s experience supporting women on temporary visas. Nearly half our clients are victim-survivors needing help with their visa after leaving a violent relationship and most tell us their partner used their visa to control them and stop them seeking help.

Many of our clients come to us uncertain about their visa status because their partner controls their access to information. Some are running out of time because their partner has followed through on their threats and contacted the Department of Home Affairs to tell them the relationship is over.

Australia’s immigration system is complex and there are not enough resources to help everyone in need. This puts women experiencing family violence at great risk of having their visas refused, possibly without them even knowing it has happened.

The merits review process plays an important role in protecting these women because it means that they can have someone look over their case afresh and consider the family violence they may not have had the opportunity to tell the government about.

Making it harder for victim-survivors to appeal visa decisions puts them at risk because it increases the chances that the threat they will be removed from Australia if they seek help will come to fruition. This plays directly into the hands of those perpetrators who are using visa status as a form of control.

The government claims that the fee increase is needed to address backlog of more than 55,000 cases currently before the AAT.

This backlog hurts victim-survivors too by delaying the resolution of their case and efforts to reduce wait times are welcome but reducing the backlog should not come at the cost of fairness and safety.

The purpose of merits review is to ensure that people engaging with Australia’s immigration system get a fair go. The government needs to urgently rollback the increase to the AAT fees and ensure that temporary visa holders who experience domestic are able to access merits review, regardless of means.

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