Long-awaited changes to family visas have come into effect on 27 February, allowing Partner and certain child visa applicants who are already in Australia to avoid having to leave the country in order to have their visas granted. Similar changes are expected to be extended to Parent visas from 24 March.
The changes have been welcomed by over 4,000 anxious visa applicants who have been in a state of limbo and facing financial and emotional strain given the health risks, costs and uncertainty associated with being forced to leave Australia in the middle of a global pandemic.
While the concessions to Partner visa applicants should be commended, they do not go far enough. There is no reason why parents and other family members similarly caught up by the COVID-19 pandemic should also be forced overseas to have their visas finalised. The planned changes to Parent visas that are due to be made in March should be brought forward immediately and the concessions extended to all categories of family visas, including Carer visas.
The plight of family members stuck in Australia during the pandemic highlights the high costs, long delays and complex rules that characterise Australia’s family immigration system. The recently announced Senate enquiry into family and partner visas is an important step in addressing the problems that have kept hundreds of thousands of families separated, in some cases for decades.
A priority for the committee must be the complex processes and long delays facing Carer visa applicants. IARC regularly assists people with disabilities or serious illnesses who are desperate for the care and support of family overseas. Despite being able to show the Department of Home Affairs that they need help now, the allocation of fewer than 500 visas a year to the Other Family program means that they are forced to wait more than five years for visas to be processed.
At a time when net migration is at a record low, there is an opportunity for the government to reset its approach to family migration, clear the backlog and bring families together. We hope the changes to Partner visas and the Senate enquiry will be the first steps towards a fairer family migration system for Australia.