Experts believe a mandatory period of provisional residency in Australia before granting permanent visas could prompt highly skilled migrants to seek alternative migration destinations.
The Federal Opposition and migration experts say permanent migrants coming to Australia are already vetted for their character before coming to Australia, after the Minister for Citizenship said it was "less than ideal" to let people come to Australia directly as permanent residents without spending any time on temporary visas.
Speaking in London Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge, indicated the need for changing the process of granting permanent residency, saying the vetting process is easier for those who have lived in Australia on temporary visas before they get their permanent residency.
“But in the other half of cases - constituting about 100,000 people each year - they are granted full permanent residency before ever stepping foot in Australia. This is less ideal, and something that requires further consideration,” Mr Tudge said in a speech to the Australia-UK Leadership Forum in London.
“If you cannot control and select who comes into your nation, then you put your security at risk, do not maximise the economic opportunity, and make social cohesion much harder.”
Under Australia’s skilled and family migration program, people residing overseas can get visas that let them permanently live and work in Australia.
This is not the first time a government functionary has flagged this. The idea was reportedly floated in November 2016 and was to be brought before the Federal cabinet in 2017.
“Should a prospective migrant spend a period of time in Australia before becoming eligible for permanent residence? What factors should be considered?” the Government asked in an immigration discussion paper released in July last year.
The discussion paper mentioned that around half of all permanent migrants in 2015-16 were already in Australia on a temporary visa.
“This means that temporary residence is increasingly becoming the first step to living in Australia permanently.”
It said people not spending time in Australia before becoming permanent residents is inconsistent with comparable countries, such as the UK, the Netherlands and the US.
However, the peak representative body of ethnic communities in Australia, FECCA opposed the proposal, saying it would limit access to basic resources and services for many new migrants.
“Provisional residence will delay the ability of immigrants to obtain employment and the integration process,” FECCA has said in its submission.
The Federal Opposition Labor said it would be concerned by any changes to the migration program that would lead to “inequality or create unfair barriers for migrants”.
“Migrants already have to pass strict health, security, and character tests when they apply for a permanent residency visa,” Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Shayne Neumann said.
Experts are not convinced introducing provisional residency would benefit Australia community.
“There’s no evidence that a mandatory temporary visa is necessary to protect the Australian community, as existing provision already require that visa applicants demonstrate they are of good character by producing police clearances,” Michael Arch, Principal at Concordia Law told SBS Punjabi.
He says such a move could prompt prospective skilled migrants to seek alternative migration destinations and Australia could lose on the benefit these highly qualified migrants have to offer.
“In my experience, prospective migrants are extremely conscientious, law-abiding people who have a tremendous amount to offer to Australia, and their migration to the country should be welcomed, and not discouraged, by this completely unnecessary barrier".