Australia should be aiming for an immigration programme that strikes a balance between skilled workers and families being reunited, it is claimed.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia (FECCA) is concerned that more emphasis is being put on attracting skilled workers and that family visas are not regarded as being as important as they should be.

familyIn particular it is worried by a new report from the Productivity Commission, the Government's independent research body, that the fee for parent visas should be increased substantially.

'We are concerned that the report's recommendations do not adequately recognise the importance of family migration. Overlooking the benefits of family migration may lead to the system being heavily skewed toward skilled migration,' said FECCA chairperson Joe Caputo.

He pointed out that while the commission's report is an important contribution to the understanding of the impact of Australia's migration programmes, some recommendations appear 'skewed toward fiscal impacts' and the social and cultural contribution of family stream migration is under-estimated.

The Productivity Commission's report recommends that the Australian Government amend arrangements for permanent parent visa applicants including a substantial increase to the fee for parent visas, a narrowing of eligibility to non-contributory parent visas to cases where there are strong compassionate grounds to do so, accompanied by clear published criteria to limit applications for such visas.

The report also says that the Government should consider lowering the caps for contributory parent visas and introduce a more flexible temporary parent visa that would provide longer rights of residence, but with requirements, as for other temporary visas, that the parents or sponsoring child would meet the costs of any income or health supports during the period of residence.

Indeed, the system seems somewhat against parent visas. According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) there is approximately a 30-year wait before visa grant consideration for parent (non-contributory) visa applications.

There is a delay of up to 50 years for people applying for remaining relative and aged dependent relative visa applications. The associated costs for contributory parent visas are also significantly higher than those for non-contributory visas.

'The availability of family reunion is essential for successful settlement, allowing migrants to maintain family ties and connections. Family reunion is also related to core human rights principles around the rights of Australians to live with their family members,' said Caputo.

'FECCA is fundamentally opposed to the imposition of a fee for immigration to Australia. Australia's migration intake should be balanced and merit based, not based on the financial means of a potential migrant. A holistic approach should be adopted, looking at the skills and other contributions of migrants,' he added.