March 2023

Call to extend compassion to people on Bridging Visas

Australia has a long history of compassion towards asylum seekers. The recent announcement that 19,000 people would receive a pathway to permanency was greeted with much joy, writes John Haren.

Since it was elected in May last year, the Federal Labor Government has made good on its promise to abolish Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs), which have only served to create unnecessary delay and anxiety for people seeking asylum in Australia.

It has been a blight on our political and social landscape that previous governments have needlessly inflicted more pain on already traumatised  families and individuals. Through his support for the Nadesalingam family in Biloela we knew that our new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, had a passion to end this abhorrent system.

Refugees and their advocates had been waiting patiently for the new policy to be enacted. On February 13 this year, the announcement that TPVs and SHEVs would be abolished provides 19,000 people with a pathway to permanency in Australia. Much rejoicing and looking forward to a new life with new opportunities ensued!

This policy shift enables people to seek employment, have access to the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) to undertake tertiary studies, have more certainty in seeking rental housing and applying for loans, as well as potential family reunion opportunities.

However, the people who were not included in the announcement was a group numbering 12,000 who are on Bridging Visas and have been experiencing the same level of anxiety about their asylum claims.

Arriving by boat, they have been in Australia for 10 years seeking a peaceful life. The so-called ‘fast track system’ has failed them and led to expeditious judgements about the veracity of their claims when a fairer system may well have delivered different outcomes.

They find themselves on short-term visas, which are sometimes renewed as often as every two weeks. Employment and housing are difficult to find and sustain because of the uncertainty attached to their residency status and they face the constant threat of being returned to the homeland from which they have fled in fear.

In some instances family members are on different visas and will be treated differently under the new arrangements. A case in point is a family where the father has a Bridging Visa with the imminent threat of deportation hanging over his head. His wife has a SHEV and, with their child, will qualify for a pathway to permanency in Australia.

As it stands, the family will be split if the father is forced to return to his homeland, despite being in Australia for 10 years and well integrated into Australian life. This is not an isolated case. 

It is an unfair and untenable situation. If they are not granted visa extensions by the Department for Immigration do they take the risk and overstay their visa in the hope that their case may be resolved sometime in the future?

However, if they were to be deported they would face the prospect of never being allowed to return to Australia. In the case of family members with separate visas this, of course, would be devastating with no hope of family reunion in Australia. No one should be placed in this invidious situation.

The Minister for Immigration has the power to intervene and grant visas based on a number of grounds including:

  • The length of time the person has been in Australia;
  • Their integration into Australian life; and
  • The best interests of any children in the family.

At a time when the nation is desperately seeking workers for particular sectors of the Australian economy it makes no sense to return this cohort of people, many of whom are available to work and contribute to the country, to a place they fear. In the intervening period, children have been born here and Australia is their home. Surely the rights of the child count for something?

It is not a significant policy leap to extend a pathway to permanency for this group of 12,000 asylum seekers. They have similar stories to the 19,000 who will be granted permanency. Australia has a long history of compassion towards asylum seekers. Think of those persecuted in Europe in World War II. Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s and 80s. Syrians and Afghans in recent times.

Extending our national compassion to a group that has been in Australia for 10 years, made their home here, had children here, worked and become integrated into the Australian way of life, is not stretching our national compassion beyond its limits. It is the right thing to do!

The Federal Labor Government has lived up to the core of its election promise of abolishing TPVs and SHEVs enabling 19,000 people to live in Australia with certainty. The Government is to be congratulated for overturning a system that did not serve the nation, asylum seekers or citizens well. There is another step to take. Another 12,000 people await that act of compassion.


John Haren

John Haren is engaged in the community sector, previously as CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society in South Australia working with the homeless, refugees, people with disability, and those with mental health challenges. John writes on contemporary issues and is working on his second novel.

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