The Kabir’s live in Brisbane but a medical condition means they have been told they will have to leave and return to Bangladesh.
Their application is believed to be one of the first times the Immigration Minister has been asked to exercise his discretion over this type of case.
Enamul Kabir is a doctor of mathematics and wife Siuly is a doctor of biomedical engineering.
They both qualified in Australia, have lived and worked here for more than five years and paid taxes.
Their eight-year-old son, Srijon, is Enamul and Siuly’s pride and joy but he is the reason why they may soon be heading back to Bangladesh.
“The last report from doctor mentioned he has moderate autism and is improving and also mentioned now he is getting support but in future may not need any support”, Enamul Kabir says.
Australia screens all migrants for medical conditions under migration law that is exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act.
“Before somebody wants to migrate to Australia they have to prove they’re not going to be a drain on our health system and a medical officer basically calculates how much this is going to cost our health system,” says Dr Susan Harris-Rimmer, from the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University.
“So the reason a lot of kids get caught is because they calculate it over their lifetime, and they don’t take into account whether you’re going to use the services or not.”
The threshold is 200-thousand dollars.
Dr Susan Harris-Rimmer, who is also a board member of the Refugee Council of Australia and Australia Human Rights Lawyers, says she is surprised by this case.
“I think this would be a test case,” she says.
“The minister’s been very focused on asylum and off-shore processing, as we would expect, and boat arrivals, but really this is exactly the sort of case where the minister should be exercising discretion, it makes all kinds of sense, it is a good economic decision not just a good human rights decision.”
Three years ago the Kabirs applied for permanent residency, but have now exhausted all legal avenues, including in the Migration Review Tribunal.
They are appealing to the Immigration Minister to let them stay, including through an online petition with change.org. It has already attracted about 25,000 signatures.
A report after the 2010 federal parliamentary inquiry into immigration recommended a “net benefit” test be applied in cases like the Kabirs, including what skills the migrants bring.
“So that was the big breakthrough after the Enabling Australia enquiry in 2010, we were meant to move to a net benefit approach, especially for families where they were affected by the child’s conditions, especially if it was very mild and not disease driven,” says Dr Susan Harris-Rimmer, who made a submission to that inquiry.
“I don’t know what’s happened in this case, he was probably just over the threshold and they’ve not applied the net benefit in a terribly sophisticated way, but that was meant they were meant to do and that was meant to be the big breakthrough.”
Enamul Kabir says he has worked hard to get qualified and work since arriving in Austraila.
“When I came here as a student I was working as an associate lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland, and for more than the last two years I’m working full-time, I’m paying tax to the government,” he says.
“For example in the last financial year I paid $18,000 in tax, so yes I’m contributing to the economy of this country and as well I’m helping researchers, students and academics who need help with statistics, so I’m contributing in that way as well.”
Both Enamul and Siuly are statisticians.
Siuly’s qualification as a biomedical engineer is also on the Australian government’s skills shortage list.
“Yes, at the moment there is a really big reliance of foreign workers, we really need to build up the skills in Australia, and meet that with domestic supply, but at the moment we need the supply internationally,” says Professor Kerrie Mengersen, the immediate past-president of the Statistical Society of Australia.
“So there’s a huge demand in Australia because there’s industries and businesses that realise they need data analysis, modelling, prediction, the advent of big data, different kinds of data, and there’s not enough people coming through from universities and schools doing good maths and stats.”
Under both the previous Howard and Rudd-Gillard governments, immigration ministers used their discretion.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office says he is awaiting a brief on the Kabir case.
Enamul Kabir’s says Srijon will not be a burden on Australia.
“First of all he doesn’t require any medication and therapy, only support he requires is special schooling, and we are very happy to pay his special schooling fees if we get permanent residency,” he says.
The Kabir’s fear what will happen to Srijon if they return to Bangladesh, where there is no special schooling or support for autistic children.
It will be a nervous festive season for the family while they await a decision before their current bridging visa runs out in February.