Following an inquiry that lasted 13 months, the Victorian Government’s Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV) released their report last week. The 2,082 page report contained 227 recommendations, a number of which dealt with the following issues in relation to family violence within the Australian immigration framework:
- the uniquely vulnerable position of temporary visa holders, such as those on temporary partner visas and dependent student and work visas, who are reliant on a partner for their own visa status and feel unable to leave a violent relationship as a result of this
- the use of a person’s immigration status as a means to threaten, control and perpetrate violence against the visa holder
- the lack of access to culturally and linguistically appropriate information relating to the rights of visa applicants and possible avenues of assistance or support
- the lack of specialist services that deal with immigration law and family law in rural and regional Australia, resulting in further isolation
- the position of contributory parent visa holders who find themselves dependent on abusive family members and without access to Centrelink assistance, as a result of their visa status
Migration law currently allows for certain family-sponsored visa applicants who have experienced family violence to be granted a permanent visa even if their relationship with their Australian sponsor has ended. This concession also applies in some cases where a member of the visa applicant’s family unit has experienced family violence. However, in its simplest form, access to the concession is restricted to:
- permanent partner visa applicants who have already been granted temporary partner visa status;
- temporary partner visa applicants who have married their Australian sponsor and hold, or have held, a prospective marriage visa; and
- family unit members of Distinguished Talent visa holders.
Notably, the concession is not available to any other visa applicants, such as prospective marriage visa applicants. Furthermore, the concession is generally not available in cases where family violence has been perpetrated by a person other than the sponsor, such as a parent-in-law or other family member. Moreover, in order to gain access to this concession, visa applicants are required to provide specific evidence to the Australian immigration department. This evidence may include court orders or two statutory declarations from competent persons, such as a doctor or social worker, who can confirm that in their professional opinion there has been family violence. For many new arrivals to Australia, obtaining satisfactory evidence of this kind this can be a very difficult task.
In light of this narrow concession, the Commission considered that migration law should be amended to allow a person who experiences violence perpetrated by a family member other than the person’s partner to gain access to the family violence concession. The Commission noted that, unlike the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) and other equivalent state and territory legislation, the current approach in migration law does not encompass other forms of family violence e.g. child-on-parent and sibling-on-sibling violence. The Commission therefore recommended that the Victorian Government, through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), encourage the Commonwealth Government to broaden the definition of family violence in migration law so that it is consistent with the Family Violence Protection Act. It remains to be seen what steps, if any, the Commonwealth Government will take in relation to implementing this recommendation to broaden the family violence concession under Australian immigration law. There will be a COAG Summit on Reducing Violence Against Women and their Children in Brisbane in October 2016, and we will watch with interest to see what, if anything, results from that meeting.
Some of the issues raised in the RCFV report may be addressed by the Migration Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2016 that was introduced to the Australian Parliament on 16 March 2016. If this Bill is passed, Australian migration law will change such that there will be a new framework for assessing, approving and monitoring the sponsors of family visa applicants. While the report does not address this Bill, the Commission nevertheless welcomed the Commonwealth Government’s efforts to raise awareness of family violence among migrants and suggested that it develop and provide pre-arrival information packs to migrants outlining Australian laws and expectations around family violence, including the potential for criminal sanctions and visa cancellation for perpetrators. Whilst this is a good start, further changes need to be made to the Australian immigration framework in order to adequately address and respond to family violence in culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
Nomos welcomes the RCFV report as well as the proactive response from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who has committed his government to implementing all 227 recommendations. We hope to see a similar response in other Australian states and territories as well as at a federal level.
If you are experiencing family violence and wish to obtain confidential immigration advice, please contact Nomos. You may also wish to contact the police on 000 or one of the service providers below:
- 1800 RESPECT (National, 24/7): 1800 737 732
- NSW Department of Family and Community Services Domestic Violence Line (NSW, 24/7): 1800 656 463
- InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence (VIC): 1800 755 988
- Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre (VIC, 24/7): 1800 015 188
- NSW Elder Abuse Helpline & Resource Unit (NSW): 1800 628 221
- Kids Help Line (National, 24/7): 1800 551 800