Temporary visa holders from Hong Kong will need to go through existing permanent residency pathways when their five-year extensions expire, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed, in an apparent backflip on a 2020 pledge to develop a new pathway.
Temporary skilled or graduate visa holders from Hong Kong who are granted five-year extensions to remain in the country as part of the government’s safe haven offer, will be able to proceed towards permanent residency through existing visa pathways, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed.
In a highly anticipated announcement, Mr Morrison told SBS Chinese there would be no new pathway towards permanent residency for Hong Kong passport holders following the five-year period.
“The government has never indicated that we’re establishing such the category. What we said is we’ve extended people’s visas and temporary visas, and to enable them to have that pathway to the normal permanent residency visas available to people, subject to meeting those requirements,” he said.
“Then that pathway's there and being able to remain in Australia and the security of that for a much longer time. Then that should enable that process to be completed and realised.”
The move comes following the government’s July offer of safe haven to Hong Kong passport holders after the enforcement of strict national security laws in that territory.
At the time, Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge told the ABC the government would “develop a particular permanent residency visa for this particular group”.
Mr Tudge affirmed that in offering the extension to temporary visa holders: "This would be a clearer pathway for permanent residency at the end of the five-year period that we’re talking about. Now, you would still have to apply for it. You still have to pass the character test, the national security test and the like. So it’s not automatic. But it’s certainly an easier pathway to permanent residency."
Mr Morrison confirmed that applicants must have “appropriate skills” if they choose that route towards residency.
“If that permanent visa is a skilled visa, they require the skill requirements of that visa. Just like anyone else applying for a permanent visa.
“Those who have applied for permanent visas and have been given the additional security of extending their temporary visas which is what we elected to do, gives people the certainty to be able to remain in Australia.
“The only requirements they would have to meet are those of the permanent visa they are applying for. If it’s a skilled visa, they would have to meet the requirements of that skilled visa and have the appropriate skills."
Amid the apparent backflip following Mr Tudge's comments in July, SBS Chinese sought clarification from Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.
A spokesperson for Mr Hawke on Friday said eligible Hong Kongers could apply for “an existing visa” with “adjusted eligibility requirements” when their five-year visa is about to expire.
The spokesperson was unable to reveal the adjusted eligibility requirements as the details were still being drafted, though he reiterated that applicants would be required to pass a health examination, character test and security assessment.
It comes after a spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs told SBS Cantonese in December: “While this permanent visa is still being developed, eligible Hong Kong passport holders will not be required to meet the additional criteria typically required for other skilled visas.”
Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally has accused the prime minister of “not delivering” on past promises.
“There are still thousands of people – in Australia and Hong Kong – who are either ineligible for the pathways Scott Morrison promised or concerned about their inability to reunite with family members,” she said.
“Scott Morrison must tell the people of Hong Kong, and their Australian friends and family, if he is going to keep his promise and actually provide pathways for Hong Kongers to come to Australia.”
Ms Keneally said Mr Hawke “already has the power to provide visa pathways for emergency situations, which means Scott Morrison and Alex Hawke are the only people standing in the way of Hong Kongers reuniting with their family in Australia.”
“Scott Morrison could also help Australians with Hong Kong partners reunite through urgently addressing the almost 100,000-strong backlog of partner visa applications. The Liberal’s mismanagement of the partner visa program is only adding more uncertainty for Australians and their loved ones at a time when they need certainty more than ever before.”
'Have no idea when I’ll reach the shore'
May*, an international student from Hong Kong, says she fears she may eventually not be allowed to stay in Australia, and would have to move to Taiwan as a result.
She says some of her friends made inquiries with their migration agents immediately after Canada rolled out new visa streams for Hong Kongers last week.
The Canadian government announced that any Hong Kong resident who graduated from a local university in the past five years or held an “equivalent foreign credential” could apply for a three-year working visa that provides a pathway to permanent residency.
May hopes the federal government will soon announce a detailed policy for permanent residency specifically for Hong Kongers.
“Now it’s like I’m swimming in the ocean, and have no idea when I’ll reach the shore.”