• Australia has a rigorous immigration process (AAP)Source: AAP
Every three minutes, someone gains permanent residency in Australia. But every year, over 40,000 people are rejected.
By
Daisy Dumas

Source:
SBS Voices
24 Jun 2020 - 1:22 PM  UPDATED 8 Jul 2020 - 7:32 AM

Love, safety, skills and money: four good reasons to migrate to Australia. But a happy marriage, fleeing persecution, a university place or the promise of full-time work are not enough to secure a future on our shores. That reality hinges upon securing a visa and then residency, and the checks and criteria that are attached to Australia’s rigorous immigration process are nothing if not thorough.

Then there’s the competition: Every three minutes, someone gains permanent residency in Australia. But every year, over 40,000 people are rejected. 

The new SBS series, Who Gets to Stay in Australia?, airing 1 July, looks at the families and individuals waiting for truly life-changing verdicts to be made by the Australian government. From married couples living on different continents to a hearing-impaired child who faces deportation, the program follows a handful of those wanting to join the 34 per cent of Australia’s population over 15 years old - 6.9 million people - who were born overseas. It is a harrowing, joyful and, at times, heartbreaking journey. 

“It’s not fair,” says one Australian in the program, whose appeal to keep his Indonesian wife beside him and their one and two-year-old sons hangs in the balance. His words are echoed by many in the four-part series, yet the law has little room for fairness. 

While filming was completed before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the coronavirus crisis brings with it a new set of impacts for those hoping to call Australia home. 

Leanne Stevens, a migration consultant and national vice president of the Migration Institute of Australia, has seen the Department of Home Affairs take a “very concessional” approach to individuals who are affected by factors outside their control - such as closed passport offices or delays to medical and language tests - despite the virus making an already uncertain situation even less secure for some. 

“People come to us wanting some certainty and of course we can’t give them any. We don’t know when travel bans will lift, we don’t know when any upcoming changes may occur.”

“People come to us wanting some certainty and of course we can’t give them any. We don’t know when travel bans will lift, we don’t know when any upcoming changes may occur,” she told SBS. 

“There are a lot of people out there who are keen and willing and wanting to go ahead with the visa but they just don’t have any certainty about when or if.” 

While she and colleagues have witnessed an overall softening of the visa market, there has been a surge in demand for partner visas and, because of the inability to travel, a rise in onshore visitor visa applicants. The swiftly deployed ‘COVID visa’, or 408, is a stop-gap solution and its fee has been waived. 

With a slowing in employee sponsored visa applications, Stevens predicts possible changes to the skilled occupation list as a response to rising unemployment figures.

With a slowing in employee sponsored visa applications, Stevens predicts possible changes to the skilled occupation list as a response to rising unemployment figures. Beyond that, she says she is unable to give people further solidity, for now. 

“The government will most likely wait for the COVID situation to settle before looking to see whether changes [such as to the skilled occupation list] are warranted,” she said. 

A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs told SBS that “Visas continue to be processed during the coronavirus crisis, though some applications may take longer as international shutdowns have made it difficult to source supplementary information like health and character checks.”

For those seeking humanitarian visas, the situation is more precarious. Australia’s annual commitment to give a home to 18,750 refugees and asylum seekers came to a grinding halt in March, when the program was suspended because of the crisis. Just 67 per cent of the year’s offshore intake had been filled by then, and it is currently not known whether the shortfall will be made up when international shutdowns are lifted. 

Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia, estimates up to 2000 of those who have already been granted protection visas were not able to travel to Australia before travel bans were put in place. He knows of just two refugee visa holders who have entered Australia since the crisis began.

“It’s like winning the lottery and to be told to wait is incredibly frustrating,” he said. 

Without being able to travel, hard fought-for medical certificates and exit permits are expiring before they can be used. Adding to complications, key decision makers from Australia were removed from their positions on the ground, coordinating the humanitarian intake, because of the virus. It all adds up to delays and a potential bottleneck of applications once the process restarts. 

The Council is also concerned for those in offshore detention during the crisis and those on Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas in Australia who may be unable to fulfil their residency pathway obligations given job losses. 

On top of this, the pandemic itself is likely to create more refugees and forced migrants worldwide. 

On top of this, the pandemic itself is likely to create more refugees and forced migrants worldwide. 

“The need is so enormous,” Power said, “refugees are in dire financial situations as a result of what’s happening.”

There are now perhaps more lives than ever, who, like those documented in Who Gets to Stay in Australia?, are waiting for bureaucrats they’ll never meet to sign on the fateful dotted line. Amidst so many unknowns, though, one truth remains clear: There will always be some who don’t get to stay.

 

Who Gets to Stay in Australia? airs over four weeks starting Wednesday 1 July at 8.30pm on SBS and On Demand.

Join the conversation #WGTSIA

Who Gets To Stay in Australia? will be subtitled in simplified Chinese and Arabic and will be added to the subtitled collection on SBS On Demand, available immediately after its premiere.

For information about settlement in Australia, in your language, visit sbs.com.au/settlementguide