Australia

For female migrant victims of family violence, their visa holder can often be their abuser

File photo Source: AAP

A new report has found migrant women on temporary visas who experience family violence are often left to suffer in silence because of fears they will be deported if they seek help.

They're some of the most vulnerable members of the community: Women, newly-arrived in Australia, who find themselves the victims of family violence.

And a new report has found these women face a terrible dilemma, often having to rely on their partners to stay in the country, even if these visa sponsors are their abusers.

"This group of women is particularly vulnerable in relation to their migration status. They may have come on a student visa and if you experience family violence there is no specific support for someone who is on a student visa," the report's co-author, Monash University associate professor Marie Segrave said.

"For someone who is on a partner visa, there is limited support in place if you want to leave and try to access a visa to stay in Australia. There is a lot of uncertainty about what will happen. If you have children, whether these children are Australian citizens or not."

Many migrant women cannot leave abusive relationships, or their visas risk being cancelled.
Many migrant women cannot leave abusive relationships, or their visas risk being cancelled.
iStockphoto

According to Professor Segrave, the women's migration status can often be used against them as a form of punishment and threat.

"Even though the system, in theory, allows women whose relationship breaks down to due to family violence to apply for the family violence provisions because sponsors are saying to women 'I will have you deported' and women aren't sure about their migration status," she said.

"They aren't very sure about much control the permanent resident/perpetrator has and are concerned enough to think that they actually will be deported if they leave or if they call the police."

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Watch: Forced Marriage awareness campaign launched at Sydney airport.
Watch: Forced Marriage awareness campaign launched at Sydney airport.

The research follows the August release of the federal government's fourth national action plan to reduce violence against women and their children over the next decade.

The authors of the latest report said they were concerned the plan did not address the issues surrounding women with temporary migration status who experienced family violence.

Their research found women faced difficulties qualifying for social security rights, including legal, welfare and medical services.

They also risked visa cancellation or refusal if they separated from the perpetrator of the violence or called the police when they experienced abuse.

The shift to having more migration services online was also identified as a barrier to seeking help because it made it easier for an abusive partner to control the visa process.

Sri Lankan women with a baby rest inside a tent.
Sri Lankan women with a baby rest inside a tent.
EPA

The report recommends the introduction of a new temporary visa for victims and survivors of family and sexual violence...as well as measures to provide greater certainty over the status of children.

Professor Segrave said it was all about making government support and services available to all.

"It's also critical that we have more cultural competency built into the system and sponsorship. It's really essential to look at some of the changes that we are putting in place to the immigration process and changes to sponsorship rules," she said.

"All of this impacts women in a particular way and aren't seen or are unintended consequences to changes in the system."

Above all else, the report says Australia should support all victims of domestic violence equally...regardless of their migration status or any other point of difference.

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