The integrity of Australia's family visa programme is to be strengthened with the introduction of a new amendment to be introduced by the Government.

The Migration Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2016 will mandate character checks of sponsors of all family visa applications, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has announced.

family overseasCurrently police checks are required for sponsors in applications where children are involved and specifically focus on the protection of children. The legislative changes will expand checks to all sponsors and Dutton said this will allow better consideration of the potential for family violence.

They will enable the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to refuse sponsorship applications in circumstances where the sponsor has convictions for paedophilia, other offences against children or offences relating to violence.

In refusing an application, the Department will have to consider a range of factors including the length of the relationship, the type of offence and how recently it occurred, the relevance of the offence to the family relationship and any other mitigating circumstances.

'Newly arrived migrants are among the more vulnerable people in our community. They are less likely to have an established support network, may not have an English speaking background and are less likely to know how to seek assistance,' said Dutton.

'These changes add an important safeguard to the family visa programme and will ensure sponsors are aware of their obligations under Australian law and are appropriately assessed before being approved as a family sponsor,' he explained.

'Strengthened information sharing provisions will also ensure that both applicants and sponsors can make fully informed decisions before committing to the visa application process,' he added.

The Minister for Women Michaelia Cash said the Bill is an important step toward protecting women and children against the very real threat of family violence. She pointed out that in 2015/2016 some 529 partner visa applicants claimed they were victims of family violence, compared to 458 claims made the previous year.

'While applicants for a partner visa who seek to remain in Australia on grounds of family violence make up less than two per cent of the partner visa caseload, we are committed to implementing policies to keep women arriving in Australia safe from violence,' Cash added.

She explained that the changes support the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children by implementing sections of Action Item 11 from the Second Action Plan requiring additional information disclosure by the Australian husband or fiancé applying for an overseas spouse visa.