In the 2014-15 Budget, the Government announced its intention to repeal six family stream visa categories–the Parent visa (subclass 103), Aged Parent visa (subclass 804), Aged Dependent Relative visa (subclasses 114 and 838), Remaining Relative visa (subclasses 115 and 835) and Carer visa (subclasses 116 and 836). An amendment to the Migration Regulations giving effect to this move was tabled in the House of Representatives on 2 June and in the Senate on 16 June. The regulation permanently closed the relevant visas classes to new applications as of 2 June 2014, but applications which were submitted prior to this date will remain in the queue and continue to be processed. An attempt by the Opposition to disallow the regulation was unsuccessful in the lower house, but a disallowance motion by the Australian Greens remains on the table in the Senate.
The stated rationale behind the closure of the visa classes is to better focus the family stream of the migration program on reunion of close family members, and ensure certainty for families by removing visa subclasses which have extremely long waiting periods. The explanatory memorandum to the Regulation clarifies that ‘close families members’ means ‘partners and children, and parents who contribute financially to their own migration and settlement (through the Contributory Parent visa category)’ (emphasis added). One of the major concerns of the Opposition and the Greens, as well as interest and advocacy groups, is that with the closing of the non-contributory parent category, the only option for people wishing to sponsor their parents to migrate permanently to Australia is via the contributory parent category. Contributory parent visas cost considerably more than non-contributory parent visas (in some cases up to $50,000 per applicant) and require a higher Assurance of Support or bond. The Opposition is concerned that many people will now be priced out of being able to sponsor their parents to migrate to Australia. Non-contributory visas cost less than contributory visas, however, as few places were available under the non-contributory visa category, the waiting time had stretched out to around 13 years.
The other visa classes repealed by the regulation are:
- Aged Dependent Relative visas, for older people who relied on an eligible relative in Australia to provide financial support
- Remaining Relative visas, for people whose only near relatives are living in Australia, and
- Carer visas, for people to move to, or remain in, Australia to care for a relative with a long-term or permanent medical condition, or assist a relative providing care to a member of their family unit with a long-term or permanent medical condition.
Migration agents and community members have expressed disappointment in both the substance of the measure, and its timing. The announcement that the visa classes would be repealed was made on 13 May, in the context of the Budget, however no date was given regarding when this would take effect. The amending regulation was made just over two weeks later, on 29 May, registered on 30 May and tabled in the House on 2 June. Agents and members of the public were informed of the amendment on 29 May and told that the last day to make valid applications for the affected visas classes would be 2 June, meaning that many prospective applicants missed the deadline. The measure has been described as ‘surprisingly nasty’, and the rationale of focusing on places for close family members as ‘disingenuous’, given that parent visas will still be available for those who can afford to pay.
The move to repeal these visa classes is perhaps unsurprising in light of the Government’s clearly expressed view that the primary aim of the migration program is to provide economic benefit. In one of his first public addresses after winning Government the Immigration Minister stated his view that ‘immigration is an economic policy, not a welfare policy’ and expressed the Government’s commitment to ensuring family reunion would never comprise more than a third of the total migration program.
However those who have criticised the move as being cruel also say that the Government is overlooking the socio-economic benefits family reunion brings, for example in providing free child care thus enabling parents to work, and providing carers for elderly or disabled people which reduces the burden on the health and aged care systems. Concern has also been expressed that not being able to sponsor parents to Australia may act as a disincentive for skilled migrants to migrate here, and therefore potential talent will be lost to other countries.
The battle by Labor and the Greens to save these visa classes has been lost in the lower house, but is yet to be fought in the Senate. The new crossbenchers in the Senate have not yet weighed into the debate on this issue, so how the Senate is likely to vote on the disallowance motion remains to be seen.