This Federal Budget is an opportunity to fix our current migration system
The Federal Budget, to be announced by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on May 11, is an opportunity for the government to show that it is serious about helping protect women on temporary visas from domestic and family violence (DFV) and to fix a broken family migration system.
Firstly, the government can restore the funding for immigration legal services that was lost when it axed the Immigration Advice and Assistance Scheme. Immigration status is invariably used as a form of control by abusive sponsors and fear about how leaving the relationship may impact their visa is one of the major barriers stopping women from seeking help. It is critical that all women on temporary visas have access to specialist immigration legal services that have the knowledge and expertise to guide them through this process. The $3.5 million legal services pilot announced by Social Services Minister Ann Ruston must be expanded and directed the community legal services who have been doing this work for decades.
Secondly, the government must ensure that women on temporary visas who leave violent relationships have full access to Centrelink and Medicare while their visa is being processed. One of the greatest concerns that our clients have is where they will go if they leave their relationship and how they will support their children. Many of these women lack the support network of friends and family who can assist them with a place to stay or help with childcare so they can find a job. A social safety net is critical to helping women on temporary visas leave violent relationships.
The Budget is also an opportunity to fix Australia’s family migration system which is characterised by high costs, long processing times and complex rules that keep families separated, in some cases for decades.
An important first step in addressing these problems is to allocate sufficient funding to the Department of Home Affairs to enable it to process Partner visas in 90 days. Currently, partners of Australian citizens and permanent residents must wait more than two years for a temporary visa that will enable them to join their partner in Australia and more than four years before they become a permanent resident. These wait times put pressure on relationships and are out of step with comparable jurisdictions like the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada.
The government must also take urgent action to help Australians with disability or medical conditions be cared for by family at home.
Caps limiting the number of Carer visas that can be issued each year means that people who need help now must wait more than four years before a family member will be granted a visa, despite it being a requirement that they demonstrate that they need the help when the application is made.
But the caps are only part of the story. In our experience, it takes more than two years for an application to be assessed and placed in the queue. This is nearly half the overall wait time. The government can alleviate some of this pressure by ensuring that the Department of Home Affairs have sufficient resources to promptly process these visas.
These changes will have a significant impact on relieving the pressure on some of the most disadvantaged members of our community. We hope that the Federal Government takes the opportunity on May 11 to take real steps towards a fairer migration system.