Safety Beyond Visa: Removing Barriers to Support for Women on Temporary Visas Subjected to Violence

adminSocial security rights review

Tina Dixson, Policy Officer – Australian Women Against Violence Alliance

Violence against women is endemic in Australia. One in 6 women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner since the age of 15. While any woman regardless of their background may be subjected to violence, those holding a temporary visa[1] find themselves in a more precarious situation. Women who are subjected to domestic, family and/or sexual violence (DFV&SV) and live in Australia on a temporary visa experience additional barriers when accessing support due to restrictive migration regulations. Restrictions embedded in migration policy flow onto other systems such as social security or family law, creating more barriers to obtaining safety.

The Blueprint for Reform: Removing Barriers to Safety for Victims/Survivors of Domestic and Family Violence who are on Temporary Visas has been developed as a response to these issues. It is a policy document that takes a comprehensive look at the intersection of a temporary migration status and experiences of violence. The Blueprint for Reform has been developed by the National Advocacy Group on Women on Temporary Visas Experiencing Violence, which currently consists of over 60 organisations from every state and territory.

Temporary visas and DFV&SV

Prior to the development of the Blueprint for Reform, the National Advocacy Group ran a survey to capture one month of data with various community service providers about women on temporary visas seeking support in family violence situations. The survey found that in August 2018 there were at least 387 women on temporary visas experiencing violence who sought support services. Around a quarter (24%) of these women were living in crisis accommodation.

Due to their inability to access other support, the duration of stay in crisis accommodation was longer for holders of temporary visas than for other women. Almost one third of the women had been supported by the service for over six months, 8% had been assisted for between a year to two years, and 5% of the clients had been assisted for more than two years. The lack of support available to holders of temporary visas traps these women in crisis accommodation and makes it difficult for them to begin rebuilding their lives. The situation for women on temporary visas experiencing violence represents a national crisis when it comes to supporting all women to live their lives free from violence.

Restricted access to safety and support for women on temporary visas who are experiencing DFV&SV persists across multiple systems. This means that women who are subjected to DFV&SV by their partners often cannot access essential services at the point of crisis and during the recovery process, due to their ineligibility for threshold entitlements such as social security payments. This ineligibility is linked to their visa status and increases the tangible risks of deportation, including separation from their children.

Access to support also differs based on visa category. For example, if a woman is in the process of a partner visa application and her partner subjects her to violence, she may be able to continue with her application for permanent residency if she separates from her violent partner. This is done through family violence provisions under the Migration Regulations. However, if a woman is a holding any other temporary visa, such as a work visa, where she is dependent on a perpetrator, in situations of DFV&SV she has no pathway to remain in Australia. In both these cases women are not eligible for social security support. Often such ineligibility for social security also makes them ineligible for social housing.

For children born in Australia to a mother on a temporary visa and a father who is a permanent resident or an Australian citizen, there are often no solutions. Perpetrators use visa status as a tool of control and to further inflict violence on women. There have been cases where deciding on parenting arrangements, Family Court orders were made for a child to remain in Australia where a mother has no rights to remain in Australia permanently. This means that a child may remain with a father who uses violence and a mother who have been a victim/survivor of violence is essentially punished for disclosing it. Additionally, pressure to finish court cases before the mother’s visa expires may push women to agree to unfair settlements.

Barriers to accessing social security pertain even in those cases where women are granted permanent residency through the family violence provisions. Once their visa is granted, they become a subject to the four year Newly Arrived Residents Waiting Period before they can access social security. Such residency rules also apply to childcare subsidy.

Such barriers across multiple systems impede women’s ability to recover from experiences of violence. Lack of financial assistance to establish their lives free from violence may push women to return to violent partners.

Blueprint for Reform

In this context the Blueprint for Reform has put forward three essential steps for reform across multiple systems to ensure the access to justice and safety for women on temporary visa who are experiencing violence.

These include:

  1. Improve the migration system so that all women on temporary visas who experience domestic, family and sexual violence and their dependents can access protections, services and justice.
  2. Ensure eligibility and access to services and government support are based on women’s needs for safety and recovery, regardless of their migration status.
  3. Ensure that women on temporary visas who have experienced domestic, family and sexual violence and their dependents have immediate and full access to safety, protection, justice and fully funded specialist support with demonstrated gender expertise and cultural competency.

Differential treatment of women who hold temporary vs permanent visas in the context of family violence highlights how gender-blind social policy will inevitably have negative impacts on women’s lives. Instead of protecting and supporting those who have been subjected to violence, it further compounds those experience and impedes their right to safety. The Blueprint for Reform signals how vital the gender and intersectional lenses are in migration policy. It offers an agenda towards making a powerful change, and we must seize all opportunities to advance that agenda.

The Blueprint for Reform can be accessed here.

[1] “Temporary visas” includes both Bridging visas and substantive temporary visas.