• Parents of migrants can provide childcare for their grandchildren, allowing parents to go to work. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The Productivity Commission’s call to make it harder for migrants to bring over their parents is callous and shortsighted.
Sushi Das

15 Sep 2016 - 2:35 PM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2016 - 2:59 PM

This week those stony-hearted economists at the Productivity Commission released a report that declared Australia’s intake of migrants’ parents was costing the country far too much.

The report argued that these parents didn’t earn much money and therefore didn’t pay much income tax. They were likely to speak poor English, and because they were old they were a financial drag on the health care and aged care systems.

Each year’s intake cost taxpayers between $2.6 billion and $3.2 billion, the report said. So, amongst other recommendations, it suggested permanent residency for these parents should only be granted on strong compassionate grounds. Not compassionate grounds, strong compassionate grounds.

In a cursory nod to the benefits these parents might bring, the report says: “Immigrant parents can make a valuable social contribution to their families, but these mainly benefit the family members themselves.”

The number crunchers at the Productivity Commission, who display all the warmth of cold-blooded reptiles, rarely have the time or the inclination to see humans as fragile, creative, adventurous or tender. They only see humans as production units or financial dead weights.

Given that many of us are not economists adept at making numbers say what we want them to, we humbly accept the declarations of the Productivity Commission. But while we may not be able to fight their numbers with numbers, we can fight them with common sense.

Loneliness, alienation and disconnection from one’s home culture are all part of a migrant’s lot in life.

The childcare that parents of migrants might provide to their grandchildren does not just benefit the family, it benefits the economy by allowing parents to go to work. That means they do something productive and pay tax. It also allows grandchildren to understand where they come from.

Loneliness, alienation and disconnection from one’s home culture are all part of a migrant’s lot in life. The opportunity to bring over parents to join them in their new country helps ward off depression and general poor health that might otherwise cost the community through demands on the health system.

At the moment visas for parents of migrants who are citizens or permanent residents are divided into two streams: a visa that costs just under $50,000 and takes a couple of years to process, or a visa that costs $7000 and can take up to 30 years to process. Thirty years. An elderly parent would be dead by the time the visa comes through. This system is too cheap and too lax as far as the economists are concerned.

Call to increase visa cost for parents of immigrants slammed
The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia says a call from the Productivity Commission to reevaluate visas for the parents of immigrants is 'nonsense' which discounts their contribution to the community.

But there are some things you can’t put a price on. When migrants feel looked after by Australia, and that includes being allowed to bring their parents over to join them so that they have something akin to a proper family, they are more likely to have a greater commitment to the country, and also do some good PR for the nation.

When you make it hard for migrants to connect to their parents by making the visa process onerous or expensive, or you simply refuse to let their parents in unless there are “strong compassionate grounds” then what you create is a level of profound unhappiness.

The top six migrants groups to Australia in 2015 were, in this order, from England, New Zealand, China, India, Philippines, and Vietnam.

In most countries, but particularly in Asian countries, family unity is paramount. It is the pivot on which everything else spins. Bearing the current cost of migrants’ parents may not help the bottom line, but it is the morally decent thing to do and because it increases the general sum of human happiness.

To deliberately frustrate migrants’ attempts to bring over their parents so that they can have a proper family life is, at its core, callous and shortsighted.

Happiness of course is not something most economists care about. But they will have to soon. Increasingly, happiness is being forced into the financial equation, particularly by economists such as Ross Gittins who argues that happiness is the most important measure of economic success.

He says living a satisfied life of endeavour, achievement and mutually rewarding relationships increases happiness. An approach by governments that places less emphasis on economic growth and efficiency and more on preserving the planet and the social fabric could increase what he calls “national happiness”.

Connections to other people and relationships, whether they are with our friends or our families, are what give meaning and purpose to life.

To deliberately frustrate migrants’ attempts to bring over their parents so that they can have a proper family life is, at its core, callous and shortsighted.

Australia’s history already contains too many instances of families that have been pulled apart - from children sent to Australia alone on ships to children torn away from their parents because of skin colour. Making it harder for families to connect, for whatever reason, is never the answer.

Sushi Das is a journalist and author. Follow her on Twitter: sushidas1

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