This chapter focuses on the key issues raised throughout the Community
Affairs Legislation Committee (committee) inquiry into the Social Services
Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants)
Bill 2018 (bill).
The key issues raised by submitters and witnesses included:
- impact of the bill on vulnerable migrants;
- exemptions to the newly arrived resident's waiting period
- ability of newly arrived migrants to apply for Special Benefit
- barriers and challenges migrants experience once they have
settled in Australia.
Impact on migrants
Submitters and witnesses raised concerns that the proposed amendments to
the NARWP would have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable migrants,
including young people, single parents, victims of domestic and family violence
and migrants with refugee-like experiences.
The Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV) submitted that newly
arrived migrants are just as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable, to changes of
circumstances such as family breakdown, loss of employment and housing
insecurity. ECCV expressed concern that any change to the NARWP would lead to
hardship for individuals who experience an unexpected change in circumstances. For example:
The ECCV is especially concerned about the impact on single
parents and their children, women who have experienced domestic violence and
new residents who lose their jobs, given the exploitation of a lot of workers
from non-English-speaking backgrounds. [...]
There are children whose parents are waiting for carer
allowance or family tax benefits and new residents who develop health
conditions. Sometimes we don't know; these things happen from time to time.
They may require ongoing medical support or medication. That creates quite an
impost on the family situation.
Similarly, the Settlement Council of Australia submitted that given the
significance of relocation to Australia as a life-changing event, newly arrived
migrants are vulnerable to hardship and that the extension of the NARWP may lead
to a number of vulnerable migrants unable to access assistance.
Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network Australia (MYAN Australia) expressed
particular concern for young people arriving in Australia on subclass 115 (Remaining
Relative) and subclass 117 (Orphan Relative) visas, noting that this cohort of
migrants are particularly vulnerable due to their experience before arriving in
These children and young people have commonly faced
pre-arrival trauma, lived for long periods in very unsafe circumstances,
without family or, necessarily, community supports. They've experienced
disrupted education and limited access to health care. Indeed their
circumstances are very similar, if not identical, to those young people who
arrive as refugees through our humanitarian program.
However, as these young people arrive in Australia through the family
migration stream, and not the humanitarian program, they are subject to the
NARWP. MYAN Australia submitted that some young people already face challenges under
the current waiting period, particularly in cases where a breakdown in family
relations occurs after their arrival in Australia, often due to increased
pressure on housing and lack of financial capabilities of their carer families.
The Harmony Alliance questioned the reason for introducing a NARWP for
particular crisis payments, such as the widow allowance, bereavement allowance
and carer allowance, noting that these payments are more likely to be accessed
by women, as women provide a disproportionate amount of care to family members
and are more likely to be reliant on a partner's income.
A number of submitters and witnesses expressed the view that the NARWP
could create a two-class system where Australian citizens are immediately eligible
for certain social security payments, but newly arrived migrants will be
ineligible for three years under the NARWP. For example, Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia (FECCA)
Under the amendment, you could possibly have the situation
where two children are born in the same hospital on the same day but their
families and therefore those children will be treated in vastly different ways
because of the residency of their parents. The family of the Australian-born
child of Australian citizens will be eligible for those payments, which will
ultimately be used for the care and upkeep of that child. But the parents of
the Australian child who was born in the same hospital on the same day will not
receive those payments because of their particular visa category, and therefore
that child is being born into a situation where they will be economically
disadvantaged through no fault of their own and they are an Australian citizen
by being born in Australia.
The Law Council of Australia expressed concern that the changes proposed
by the bill would target migrants without clear guidance as to how the measures
contained in the bill address a substantial policy concern, or evidence to
suggest that there is an over-reliance on social security by newly arrived
Several submitters and witnesses recognised that the majority of migrants
impacted by the bill are able to support themselves following their arrival in
When introducing the bill, the Minister for Social Services, the Hon.
Dan Tehan MP, noted that waiting periods for newly arrived migrants are
designed to ensure that people who decide to apply for a permanent visa in
Australia take steps to ensure that they can provide their own financial
support during their initial settlement period.
The Department of Social Services (department) submitted that the
eligibility criteria for permanent residency under the skilled and family
streams of the migration program targets people who are more likely to be able
to support themselves and their families when they first arrive in Australia,
such as through work, existing resources, or family support.
Notably, the Productivity Commission found that permanent non-humanitarian migrants who arrived between 2000 and
2011 (and would have been subject to a two year waiting period unless exempt)
had lower take-up rates of income support in 2011 than the general population. The Productivity Commission noted that only three per cent of permanent skilled
migrants and 13 per cent of family migrants who arrived between 2000 and 2011
were receiving any form of income support in 2011, compared to 17 per cent for
the general population.
The Minister for Social Services also explained that the full range of
existing exemptions from the NARWP, which provide important protections for potentially
vulnerable migrants, will be retained under the bill.
A number of submitters and witnesses acknowledged and supported the
retention of the current exemption provisions, particularly for refugees and
their families. However, as outlined above, other cohorts of newly arrived migrants were
identified as potentially vulnerable, with submitters and witnesses raising
concerns that support may not be available when migrants are unable to support
The department explained to the committee the range of exemptions to the
NARWP which are available to migrants in need. As noted by the Minister for
Social Services, these exemption provisions are currently in place and will be
retained under the proposed bill.
Refugee and humanitarian exemptions
The department submitted that refugees, former refugees and family
members of refugees will continue to be exempt from the NARWP for all payments
and concession cards.
However, the Refugee Advice and Casework Service queried whether the
exemption also extended to Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) holders who may
also be considered refugees.
The department clarified that temporary humanitarian-type visa holders,
including SHEV and Temporary Protection Visa holders, will continue to be
exempt from the NARWP for Special Benefit, low income health care card, family
tax benefit, parental leave payment and dad and partner pay, noting that these
visa holders are generally not eligible for other payments. The department added that where a SHEV holder moves to a permanent visa, they
will remain exempt from the NARWP for these payments and will continue to have
access to these payments where eligible, and while serving the NARWP for other
The department noted that the exemption to the NARWP for refugees and
temporary humanitarian-type visa holders recognises the inherent vulnerability
of these visa holders, who generally have no other means of support following
their arrival in Australia and are usually not able to plan to support
themselves prior to applying for a humanitarian visa.
Change of circumstance exemptions
Schedule 1 to the bill makes a minor technical amendment to an existing
exemption for the NARWP for Special Benefit payment to align the legislation
with the existing intent of the policy. The department explained that:
It's clarifying and making more explicit what the policy
intent is and it's closing a potential loophole where people might, for
example, have arrived in Australia on a tourist visa, which they might be able
to argue was their first arrival in Australia. They leave, come back to
Australia, gain permanent residency and argue that their change of
circumstances happened after they arrived in Australia on a tourist visa when
the change of circumstances was always intended to apply for a change that
happened after they were granted a permanent visa. It's not changing any of the
policy intent. It's making absolutely clear that that intent is intended to
apply only to people who are granted a permanent visa.
Under the bill, people will remain exempt from the NARWP for Special
Benefit if they have experienced a substantial change in circumstances since
the start of their waiting period. The exemption is designed to ensure a safety
net for people who find themselves in hardship and have no other means of
support for reasons which are beyond their control. The reasons are outlined in the Guide to Social Security Law and include:
- victims of domestic and family violence;
- people who experience prolonged injury or illness and are unable
- where a dependent child develops a severe medical condition,
disability or injury; and
- when a sponsor or partner dies, becomes a missing person or
becomes a long term prisoner.
While some submitters and witnesses criticised the amount and
accessibility of Special Benefit, the department noted that the payment is intended as a last resort that
provides support to people who are experiencing financial hardship and are unable
to earn a sufficient livelihood and not eligible for any other income support
Where a person is receiving Special Benefit, they will also be exempt
from the NARWP for Carer Allowance, Family Tax Benefit, Parental Leave Pay and
Dad and Partner Pay.
In addition, recipients of Special Benefit may also be eligible for a
range of supplementary payments including Rent Assistance, Energy Supplement
and Education Entry Payment. Special Benefit recipients are also automatically
issued a Health Care Card or a Pensioner Concession Card which entitles the
holder to cheaper prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits
Scheme, bulk-billed doctor's visits (subject to the doctor's discretion) and a
bigger refund for medical costs through the Medicare Safety Net.
Of the 183 608 permanent skilled and family visas granted in 2016–17,
just 915 people received Special Benefit payment as a result of an exemption
from the NARWP, representing just 0.5 per cent of permanent visas granted that
The department acknowledged that while some stakeholders may view the
amendment regarding a change in circumstances as narrowing the eligibility, the
amendment reflects how the policy is currently implemented.
Victims of domestic and family
A number of submitters and witnesses raised particular concern about the
impact of the bill on newly arrived migrants who were victims of domestic and
family violence, particularly regarding the timing of a change in circumstances
to access special benefit and the timeliness of processing claims.
The department observed that an episode of domestic and family violence
may not be isolated to one particular event and that the effects are often felt
over a period of time, including instances of abuse, leaving the perpetrator
and ongoing trauma as a result.
The department explained that, the timing of a substantial change in
circumstances for the purpose of seeking an exemption to the NARWP for Special
Benefit is not necessarily the day on which the abuse occurred or the day that
the victim left the perpetrator. For example:
...if a Special Benefit claimant is unable to seek work or take
up employment because of trauma or intimidation, they may be considered to be
currently experiencing the effects of family and domestic violence. In this
situation, the person would be regarded as having suffered domestic or family
violence both before and after the commencement of the NARWP and the person may
receive Special Benefit, provided all other requirements are met.
In addition, the Department of Human Services has established processes
in place to refer people claiming Special Benefit due to domestic violence to a
social worker for support and assessment. The Family Violence Unit within the
Department of Home Affairs also assesses family violence claims made by visa
applicants and provides referral advice to support services.
The Department of Human Services has processes in place to prioritise
Special Benefit applications for vulnerable applicants, such as victims of
domestic violence and family violence.
Barriers experienced by migrants
Several submitters noted that migrants can face barriers to finding meaningful
employment in Australia which subsequently affects their ability to support
themselves and their family after settling in Australia.
FECCA cited a number of findings from The Characteristics of Recent
Migrants Survey published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in November
2016. The survey found that 31 per cent of recent migrants who had been employed in
Australia reported experiencing some difficulty finding their first job, most
commonly due to a lack of Australian work experience or references, a lack of local
networks and language difficulties.
In addition, FECCA identified that culturally and linguistically diverse
(CALD) young people also face challenges finding employment in Australia including:
- English language proficiency and employer discrimination due to
- lack of Australian qualifications or limited recognition of
- limited familiarity with the Australian workforce, employment
systems and culture; and
- experiencing torture or trauma prior to migration to Australia.
Similarly, the Harmony Alliance submitted that women in Australia from
CALD backgrounds have an 11.9 per cent workforce participation gap compared to
Australian women, increasing to 23.1 per cent when compared to all Australian
Overall recent migrants and temporary residents experience a high
workforce participation of 70 per cent, compared to only 66 per cent of people
born in Australia. However, FECCA observed that 7.4 per cent of recent migrants and temporary
residents of Australia are unemployed, two per cent higher than people born in
The Settlement Council of Australia and the Migration Council of
Australia commented that some migrants may find the settlement process,
including finding employment, more difficult than others and that the lack of
any kind of support in the first few years of settlement can exacerbate any
trouble they experience. In addition, they noted that the potential for this to occur is far greater in
certain cohorts of migrants, including women, young people and those who have
vulnerable family members.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence suggested that intensive services should
be introduced in order to assist newly arrived migrants to find employment in
Australia, noting that they often lack awareness of how to get a job in
...people come to Australia with rose-coloured glasses about
how to get a job in Australia. We need to provide intensive services—and these
are few and far between—to get people to understand how to get a job in
Australia in their field, how to ensure that people present themselves
adequately within that process and then be able to get that job.
The department submitted that research has indicated that, since the
introduction of the two year NARWP, the majority of migrants who settled in Australia
on a permanent skilled or family visa have been able to support themselves,
without relying on social security, both during and after the waiting period.
In addition, of the 183 608 permanent skilled or family visas granted in
2016–17, 123 567 visas were granted under the skilled stream, indicating that the
majority of permanent migrants had skills which were in demand in Australia and
would therefore be able to support themselves and their families through work.
Newly arrived migrants will also remain eligible to volunteer for
jobactive services for up to six months which may assist migrants to find work
The committee supports the extension of the existing NARWP from two
years to three years to encourage newly arrived migrants to support themselves
for longer, and contribute socially and economically to Australia before
accessing Australia's welfare system.
The committee supports the intention of the bill to ensure that
Australia's welfare system remains fair and sustainable for the future. The
NARWP has not increased in over 20 years while welfare expenditure has grown
significantly during this time.
The committee notes that the introduction of the NARWP for parenting
payment, widow allowance, bereavement allowance and carer allowance is
consistent with the waiting period for other working age payments.
The committee also notes that the introduction of a NARWP for parental
leave pay and dad and partner pay is consistent with the expectation that
migrants who choose to become permanent residents should be able to support
themselves and their families for a reasonable period of time after arriving in
The committee acknowledges the concerns raised by submitters that the
bill may impact migrants who are vulnerable or unable to support themselves.
The committee supports the retention of existing exemptions for humanitarian
entrants and their families and exemptions for people who experience a
substantial change in circumstances after becoming an Australian resident. The
committee notes that these exemptions maintain a safety net for migrants who
find themselves in need and are supported by departmental processes to refer
people to appropriate support services and prioritise applications where
The committee recommends that the bill be passed.
Senator Lucy Gichuhi
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