‘No change’ to visitor-visa criteria

Wicki Wickramasingham says overseas relatives of Australian citizens and permanent residents are being discriminated against. 202268_02 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

by Cam Lucadou-Wells

A federal MP says there’s no change to the criteria preventing overseas relatives wishing to visit South East residents, despite claims of a spate of rejections.

Advocates have claimed that recent visitor-visa decisions made by the Immigration Department were “discriminatory” especially against applicants from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Pakistan.

It meant that family members were reportedly unable to visit Australian citizens and permanent residents for births, wedding, funerals and other significant occasions for between 3-12 months.

However Bruce MP Julian Hill said that they were “not political decisions – they are made by the Department independent of MPs”.

“Sometimes I agree the decisions are too tough, though they are difficult and on balance judgements the department has to make.”

Star Journal met with a distraught and overwhelmed pregnant mother-of-two and her husband, who was hoping that her overseas mother could visit to help her after the birth of her third child.

Her husband has given up work to help at home and do school runs. As a result, they are under immense financial pressure.

Such is their desperation, they’ve made three fruitless applications for visitor visas for a non-refundable fee of nearly $200 per time.

Mr Hill said there had been no change to the long-standing policy that applicants must meet the same “Genuine Temporary Entrant criteria”.

Applicants needed to “convince the department they only intend a short-term visit and will not overstay their visa”, he said.

“If an applicant is a citizen of a country where there is a serious civil unrest, political instability or other significant circumstances, the Department may be less confident that a temporary visa-holder will return home prior to the expiry of their Australian visa.

“It’s important not to draw conclusions based on individual cases as the Department has to make decisions based on intelligence they receive, patterns for other visa holders and the actual evidence provided.

“They look at all sorts of things including the strength of family and economic incentives to return home, travel history and so on.”

Mr Hill said that after a “decade of decimation” of visa processing by the former Government, Labor had reduced the standard processing time for visitor visa applications by more than 75 per cent.

Failed applications for visitor visas can be reviewed at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

But the reviews come at a cost of about $3500 and can take 1-2 years, according to refugee advocate Wicki Wickiramasingham.

Local residents’ pasts as asylum seekers arriving by boat 15 years ago are being unfairly weighed against them, he recently told Star Journal.

“These ‘boat people’ – you have detained them, released them, given them permanent protection, they become citizens and now you stop their family visiting.

“They are being discriminated against, even though they are Australian citizens.

“If they still don’t have equal rights as others, then what’s the point (of being citizens)?”

Dandenong-based migration agent Thayhorn Yim agreed that it seemed discriminatory.

“They should be allowed to come here provided there’s no adverse information against them.

“It’s causing a lot of grief in the community. Especially after Covid-19 they want to reunite with their families.”