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Migration reform good news at last

  • 01 July 2009
'Migration reform' is commonly the wording used for any changes in the Immigration portfolio, but it is not often that it has positive connotations when dealing with refugees and asylum seekers. However in the last 18 months, four changes made by Minister Evans do have positive benefits.

The abolition of the 'Temporary Protection Visa' (TPV) and the 'Pacific Solution' last year was welcome not only by advocates but by the refugees living in the limbo that the TPV created. Most should now have their permanent visa, but many waited years for this.

Permanent residence means they can at last sponsor their immediate family such as a spouse and dependent children. It also means they can visit family in a third country and know they will be able to return to Australia.

Both of these scenarios were prevevented under the TPV, which was incredibly punitive. The trauma of initial family separation is bad enough without the added trauma of knowing it will continue for years. This policy influenced many spouses and children to travel to Australia by boat rather than wait years in unsafe conditions.

All successful refugees are now granted permanent residence. This helps them to establish their lives in their new country, without constantly worrying about what is happening to their family overseas.

The second major reform was in detention practice. Now the focus is on making detention as brief as possible, with access to community housing. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship tries to reduce the numbers of people going into detention and see if there are ways these people can stay in the community on a bridging visa. This is a marked change in approach from the former government, whose focus was the reverse.

A related reform is the abolition of detention debts. These were introduced in 1992 by a previous Labor government. The debt was a daily rate (usually more than $120) charged to a detainee which they had to repay on being granted a visa unless it was waived.

In reality, very little money was ever collected — about three per cent, according to DIAC — as those granted protection had the fee waived, and others who were returned to their home country were unlikely to ever pay the amount unless they wanted to come back to Australia.

The debt was only enforced against a small number of former