An Australian-born child and his Perth-based family are facing deportation from Australia to Pakistan as they do not meet the medical grounds required for a permanent residency visa. Disability advocates say it's an increasing trend.
In 2017, the Qasim Butt's family's permanent residency (PR) application was rejected on the basis of medical grounds.
Their five-year-old child Shaffan has a genetic condition called chondrodysplasia punctata, affecting bone development, and relies on ventilator. When he was six-months-old, he suffered a spinal injury resulting in paralysis from the neck down.
According to Australian migration law, a visa application can be rejected if there is a condition likely to result in significant healthcare costs or prejudice the access of Australian citizens and residents to health services.
On August 22 this year the family's appeal for reconsideration of the PR visa was also rejected, and they have now applied for a ministerial intervention to allow them to stay in Australia.
Shaffan's parents fear that the deportation will be harmful to their child’s health and could possibly result in his death.
“Shaffan is being treated locally and is currently in the best hands. He is going to school, accustomed to the environment and loves this place,” Shaffan’s father Qasim Butt told SBS Urdu.
“He has a very weak respiratory system and has no control over his bowels and bladder. His medical advice states that his health might be at risk if he travels on an aeroplane. We appeal to the authorities to think about our son and his health.”
Dwayne Cranfield, CEO of disability advocacy organisation the National Ethnic Disability Alliance said that it's "obscene" for Australia to consider deporting Shaffan and his family.
“This is something we are seeing more and more where they [migrants] work for several years, they apply for permanent residency, they have a child or one of the partners of the couple becomes ill or there is a physical issue or disability," he said.
"Then they don’t meet the health requirements and are denied residency and are forced to leave the country.
“It is obscene to see people broken down to an algorithm of worth, and then it is decided via your cost-benefit analysis to the community. If you don’t meet the criteria you are asked to leave. It basically tells the community that people with a disability are a burden."
In the last couple of weeks, more than 50,000 people have signed an online petition requesting the Immigration Minister to intervene in Shaffan's case.
Response from the Department of Home Affairs
In response to questions on Shaffan's case, a spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said the department does not comment on individual cases.
“Most visas require applicants, including accompanying family members, to meet the migration health requirement set out in Australian migration law.
“An assessment is undertaken individually for each applicant based on their condition and level of severity... Where an individual case does not meet the legislated health requirement, an application can be made for Ministerial Intervention.
“Individuals and families may remain in Australia while their case is being considered.”
Australian migration lawyer Owais Shaheen explains how the Perth family does not meet migration requirements for the permanent visa.
“This is a very unique and difficult situation for the child and the family. The law states that when someone applies for permanent residency, there is a health check requirement that includes PIC (Public interest Criteria).
“The immigration department checks if the applicant has an illness or a disability. If there is a disability, and it is significantly high which might result in more usage of public funds and resources, it results in the denial of visa."
He notes that concerns over discrimination in the process have been raised and exceptions are sometimes made.
“There have been times several times where this issue is highlighted by the politicians as it appears to be discriminatory towards disabled people, but it is still in practice. However, the Immigration Minister has the power to make a decision on the case based on unique and specific circumstances.”
Lack of facilities in Pakistan
Dr Sayeed Khan, Director of the South Western Sydney Primary Health Network and President of Council of Australia Pakistan Medical Associations, says it will be very difficult to take care of the child due to a lack of facilities in Pakistan.
“In all the basic health parameters, Pakistan is right at the bottom. The majority of the population doesn’t have access to clean water. This also reflects on medical services there. Currently, medical professionals are embroiled in the basic problems in health which are gastroenteritis, fever, tuberculosis, and malaria.
When it comes to Shaffan's need to use a ventilator at the minimum of his medical needs, Dr Khan says his outlook is not good.
“Anyone who is on such medical devices, it would be very hard for someone to survive in those conditions. Even if someone who has a lot of money, the management of such illness would be very hard [in Pakistan].”
The family is now on a bridging visa awaiting the minister's decision.