Labor will seek changes to migration laws to stop the “madness” of forcing visa applicants to leave the country and fly back in during the global pandemic.

The migration system requires that applicants for some permanent visa categories be outside Australia when their case is decided.

For those who are already in the country, this forces them to fly abroad for a short period, obtain the final visa approval, and then return.

The pandemic has made such travel dangerous and in conflict with official travel advice. It also places an extra, albeit small, strain on quarantine places.

Late last year, the then immigration minister, Alan Tudge, bowed to pressure and announced he would absolve those applying for partner visas from having to be offshore to have them granted.

Tudge described the move as “common sense”, given the pandemic.

But that same exemption has not been extended to other visa types that require individuals to be offshore at the time they are granted.

The most popular among them are contributory parent visas, which still require applicants to “be outside Australia when we decide your application”.

The numbers of those applying for parent visas are relatively small – about 3,730 were granted last financial year, compared to the 37,118 places for partner visas.

But Labor says the same “common sense” applied by Tudge to partner visas should be extended to all other visa types requiring offshore granting, including parent visas.

Labor MP Julian Hill plans to move a private member’s bill granting the minister the temporary power to issue any visa onshore during the pandemic.

“Forcing people to fly overseas and back again just so their visa can be granted is madness in the middle of a global pandemic,” Hill said.

“Scott Morrison’s ridiculous ‘fly out fly in’ policy is wasting precious quarantine places that should be used for stranded Australians, and risks more people getting infected and bringing back dangerous new strains of Covid-19.”

Grattan Institute fellow and leading migration expert Henry Sherrell said that the number of people likely to be affected was small.

But he said anything to “reduce the number of people leaving Australia unnecessarily is beneficial for public health”.

“Given Australia’s limited quarantine capacity, it makes sense to temporarily ease rules forcing people to leave Australia to gain a visa,” Sherrell said. “Looking at recent Covid-19 extension opportunities for some investment visas and the recent changes for partner visas, it’s clear the government understands these dynamics.”

The immigration minister, Alex Hawke, has significant discretion to make new regulation and policy to change the circumstances of visa applications.

Hawke’s office referred questions about the matter to his department, which said the government was “continually reviewing the settings for various visas to respond to the challenges posed by Covid-19”.

The department said it was taking special consideration of visa applications in light of the pandemic, and said that those applying for parent visas were “being given additional time to depart and advised of temporary visa options to ensure they remain lawful in Australia”.

“Temporary visa options are available to ensure parent visa applicants are able to remain lawfully in Australia during the Covid-19 period,” a spokesman said.

“However, there may be individual cases where the visa applicant chooses to travel overseas to allow their permanent visa to be granted or where applicants were asked to travel offshore prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.”

Despite Tudge’s promise, the government is yet to enact the new concession allowing partner visa applicants to remain onshore.

The department confirmed that the concession would be introduced in early 2021 and would also apply to child visas, adoption visas, dependent child visas, and prospective marriage visas, but not parent visas.

Channel Ten reported on Sunday that one parent – a cancer survivor with only one lung – was forced to fly in and out of Australia during the pandemic to obtain her visa.

Another mother was told that her visa had been granted but that she needed to make arrangements to leave Australia within 28 days for it to receive final approval.

Hill urged Hawke to make the changes needed to stop such scenarios.

“The minister could change this rule with a stroke of his pen but has failed to act, so I am introducing a private member’s bill to give the minister a temporary power to issue any visa onshore during the pandemic,” he said.

“It’s a simple, common sense change which will increase the number of quarantine places for stranded Australians.”


Related posts