Lauren Stark[i] – Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA)
In Australia there is a strong record of migrants contributing significantly to this country’s way of life and culture. Migrants have shown resilience, thrived amid adversity, and created a home and a future for themselves and their families. In Australia, all families should be able to flourish and be included.
Australia relies heavily on migrants for much of the heavy lifting around economic growth, including migrant workers under the Skilled Stream or the Seasonal Worker Program. This is particularly true of the plans for economic recovery through COVID-19, in terms of population and economic growth, as well as for meeting critical skill shortages. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, most people holding long-stay temporary visas who lost work were ineligible for social security income support. Many felt abandoned.
In recent years, migrants have experienced:
- prolonged and inconsistent visa processing wait times, leaving people on temporary visas for longer
- exclusion from JobKeeper financial support program and other support for temporary visa holders during COVID-19
- temporary visa holders, both migrant workers and students, being told to ‘return home’ during COVID-19 without sufficient support
- increased fees throughout the migration program, including an increase of Citizenship fees by 72% in 2021
- the introduction of English testing for potential Partner Visa holders
- progressive extension of the newly arrived residents waiting period (NARWP) to additional payments over a number of years, and progressive increase in the length of the NARWP to four years.
The Social Services Legislation (Consistent Waiting Periods for New Migrants) Bill 2021 proposes a four-year wait for Family Tax Benefit (FTB) A and B, Carer Allowance, Carer Payment, and Parental Leave Pay/Dad and Partner Pay. These changes will further reduce support available to new permanent residents and may impact the attractiveness of Australia for skilled migrants in the future.
Who is a new Migrant? — Australia’s pathway to permanency
The 2021 iteration of the Bill extending the NARWP was named ‘Consistent Waiting Periods for New Migrants’, but who is a new migrant in Australia’s two-step migration system?
The explanatory memorandum states
‘In the context of the current welfare payment system and migrant program settings and objectives, four years is considered a reasonable period to expect migrants to support themselves and their families before accessing most Australian welfare payments.’
There are concerns the expectation of self-sufficiency far exceeds four years for those on two-step pathways to permanency.
Approximately half of all permanent visas are granted to people who are already in Australia on a temporary visa,4 and uncapped temporary visas are causing wait times to continuously increase.
This means that many people have worked, lived, and paid taxes in Australia on temporary visas for over three years before becoming eligible to even apply for a permanent visa. The Bill now before Parliament proposes that the four-year wait time begins once a person is granted permanent residency. This is on top of the time already spent in Australia on temporary visas.
These people are not newly arrived.
The prolonged pathway to permanency combined with delayed access to FTB and carer payments if the Bill is passed, will delay migrants’ access to payments targeting people with children, and carers of people with disability or aged parents, for approximately eight years.
Women and Children
This Bill will have consequences for women and families from migrant backgrounds. Without eligibility for FTB A and B or Parental Leave Pay, settling in Australia with a family will be more daunting. With population growth central to our economic recovery, it does not make sense to implement new disincentives for migrants to choose Australia as their future home, or for permanent residents in Australia to have children.
For partners of Australian Citizens, the Australian migration process is two-step (temporary and permanent), and lengthy:
- To be eligible, partners must either be married or be considered de facto. A de facto relationship must include a commitment to a shared life excluding others, a genuine and continuing relationship and living together.
- When partners apply, they wait approximately two years for their temporary visa to be processed as the first step towards a permanent Partner Visa.
- Once granted, the partner must then wait two years, at least, to be granted a permanent visa.
This Bill proposes that the partner must wait an additional four years from visa grant date to be eligible for Parental Leave Pay. For many, this eight-year eligibility wait may significantly delay their family planning. Permanent visa holders are already precluded from JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance and other social security payments for four years, despite paying taxes in Australia.
Many people in Australia, including migrants, work for small businesses that may not be able to afford to pay their workers any parental leave.5 Without access to the Parental Leave Pay through Centrelink, permanent residents will have to make reproductive decisions based on this ineligibility.
Scenario: Mike, who is 30 meets partner Rosa, 28, overseas and two years later sponsors her to come to Australia. After a two-year processing time, Rosa is approved for a temporary partner visa. She must hold this temporary visa for two years before she can receive permanent residency (PR). By this time, Rosa will be 34. Already she must wait for four years from PR to be eligible for Parenting Payment. Under the NARWP Bill, Rosa must also wait four years for Parental Leave Pay, and FTB A and B. She must choose whether to have a child without any parental leave pay and FTB, or wait an additional four years. If she waits, she will be 38.
Effect on Citizens – Current and Future
Permanent Residents are future Australian citizens and should be made to feel welcome, secure, and accepted. The proposed legislation is not only deeply unfair and hurtful to future citizens but corrosive to the social cohesion all Australians work to protect. Supporting migrants to have the best possible settlement outcomes is in the best interests of migrants, their families, and the broader community, ensuring that all may benefit from their contributions to our society and economy.
It is estimated that by 2050, migrants will be contributing 1.6 trillion dollars to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product and ten per cent more to the economy than existing residents.[ii] Migrants are vital to the future success of Australia, and people in the early stages of their migration journey should be eligible for assistance.
Without eligibility for Family Tax Benefit A and B, people migrating to Australia and becoming permanent residents will be effectively paying more to establish a family and raise their children, compared to others in our community.
Once migrants have been supported through the early stages of their journey and provided with clear and fair pathways to citizenship, not only do they go on to become self-sufficient, but they also contribute significantly to Australian society. In November 2019, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that migrants who had obtained Australian citizenship since arrival had a higher labour force participation rate (76 per cent) than migrants on a permanent visa (66 per cent), temporary residents (65 per cent) or those born in Australia (65 per cent).[iii]
Permanent migrants and their children should enjoy the same benefits as all Australian citizens, and their transition to life in Australia should not be made more difficult, particularly when they have been acknowledged as possessing skills that are critical to our future prosperity. Afterall, they are our future Australians.
Read FECCA’s submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry on the Social Services Legislation (Consistent Waiting Periods for New Migrants) Bill 2021 here
Read EJA’s submission to the Inquiry here
[i] Lauren Stark is Senior Policy and Project Officer, FECCA
[ii] Migration Council of Australia. The Economic Impact of Migration. https://migrationcouncil.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/The-Economic-Impact-of-Migration.pdf