Australia prides itself on having a non-discriminatory immigration programme, but concerns are being raised that new vetting powers could result in Trump-like bans on visa holders from certain countries and backgrounds.
People from specific ethnic groups, religions or even whole groups of nationalities could be forced to have their visas revalidated, it is claimed. It is also suggested that new powers being discussed could see people having their visas checked due to their political views.
The Migration Amendment (visa revalidation and other measures) Bill, which has just passed through the House of Representatives and now goes on to the Senate, would give new powers to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.
It was introduced to create a revalidation measure for the pilot programme of 10-year visas for Chinese nationals visiting Australia due to be launched later this year, but during the debate concerns have been raised that it is back door way to introduce checks on any group that the Government might want to target.
Migration experts are warning that such powers as outlined in the Bill are not justifiable, too broad and could easily discriminate against specific groups of people currently living lawfully in Australia.
The current wording of the Bill says that checks could be done on a ‘specified class of persons’ that the Immigration Minister thinks should be looked at ‘in the public interest’. It gives examples such as people with a passport from a particular country and people who may have travelled through a particular area at a particular time.
It currently would give Dutton the power to revalidate a visa if ‘adverse information’ comes to light but does not define what this could be. It also says visas could be checked on grounds of public health and safety, national security, the country’s economic well-being and even circumstances in a country where a visa holder originates from.
Critics say the powers proposed are unjustified and liable to exploitation. The Migration Institute of Australia said it is concerned that it would give the Immigration Minister ‘unfettered powers’ over who could and could not hold a visa.
‘In essence the institute agrees with the idea of revalidation, however, we are concerned that the Bill is broad in its definition. It discusses things like adverse information without defining it properly. The Bill is not specified at just one visa so it could apply to a myriad of other visa categories,’ said Angela Julian-Armitage, national president of the Migration Institute of Australia.
‘We don’t believe that someone who has been a permanent resident of Australia for a long time should be revalidated as well and there is an ability to do that the way the Bill stands at present,’ she explained, adding that at worst, the Minister’s powers could be used to significantly skew the interpretation of the public interest and discriminate against large numbers of long term visa holders lawfully living in Australia.
The Law Council of Australia said it is also concerned that the Bill goes beyond 10-year Chinese visa programme that it was originally intended to relate to and said it is ‘neither necessary nor proportionate to its intended objective’.
Dutton defended the Bill. ‘What we’ve said is during that period of holding a visa, if somebody, for example, commits a criminal offence or they are put on a terrorist watch list then we reserve the right to go back and have look at their details and stop them from coming to our country,’ he told Australian radio.