Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 10. They talked about strengthening their security and economic ties.
Australia has been a popular destination among Indians for decades as many of them go to Australia to study, work, or visit their families. They all contribute to the Australian economy by paying student fees, taxes or by spending on tourism.
Australia is also very popular for its permanent residency visas. Many skilled workers can apply to live in Australia permanently if they possess critical skills, which are in shortage in Australia.
However, a recent case brought to light the exploitative and discriminatory nature of migration laws.
Aneesh, who works in the telecommunications industry, and his wife Krishna, who is a cyber security expert, have been living and working in Perth for many years.
They have two children. Their 10-year-old son has certain mild disabilities as he has Down’s syndrome.
Since they have been living here for many years, the family considered Australia as their home, until recently, when their permanent residency visa was denied, and they were at risk of deportation at a few days’ notice.
Their visa was denied because the government said that their child will be a burden on the Australian economy due to the medical costs, even though professionally, both of them qualified for the PR visa. They also have been sponsored and nominated by the state of Western Australia.
Being an Indian immigrant in Australia, I follow the news from both countries. I see the mainstream media in India talking about the strengthening of ties between both countries. Be it the grand show of the cricket match, the security deals, or the education tie-ups, the message seems to be loud and clear that Australia is ready to work with India on many fronts.
However, I did not see any significant coverage about this human rights issue in the Indian media. However, this was widely covered in Australia in the days leading to Albanese’s visit to India.
I migrated to Australia under the skilled worker category many years ago along with my two children. An IT professional pays at least $30,000 in taxes every year. So, a couple pays at least $60,000 in taxes annually.
A middle-class educated family from India would strive to educate their child in spite of the mild disabilities. They would also want their child to learn skills that he would need in his future life.
A lot of working professionals buy private medical insurance to ensure that their family can access the private healthcare system when needed as the public system sometimes means long delays in accessing specialists and certain treatments. Hence, the government saying that the child is a burden on the Australian healthcare system is not justifiable.
Activist Suresh Rajan, with a minister’s intervention, helped the family in this case. They were granted permanent residency last week.
Rajan calculated the amount of taxes the family will pay in the next 10 years and proved that it will offset the medical costs to the government. A petition on change.org was signed by 28,000 people indicating their support to the family.
“This piece of legislation has been in the Migration Act for many years. It was first introduced in 1901. It was later amended in 1958. The purpose of this legislation was essentially to keep certain prescribed contagious and infectious diseases off our shores. The later amendments removed reference to prescribed conditions,” he said.
The application of this legislation is clearly in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons. We are proud signatories to that convention. We have been urging the government to address human rights issues through various Acts.
We recommend that the government review how much taxes a family, with a person with disability, has to pay to the government. Once that is done, we suggest that the government offsets against the tax that is paid by the family.
In the case of Krishna and Aneesh, the calculation would result in a net zero cost to the taxpayer. This would be a “fairer outcome”, as per Rajan.
Human rights issues
This story reveals the exploitative and discriminatory nature of Australia’s migration laws. While on one hand, the government wants people possessing certain skills to migrate to their country and help shape their economy, they are not being sensitive to the human right issues of the people.
Moreover, the process to get a permanent residency visa is cumbersome, expensive, and considerably harrowing, he said.
“And what do all these people have in common? They are all dealing with immigration. They are all of Indian origin. They all have a family member with a disability. They have all had their PR visa denied or are in the process of having it denied. They are all employed in critical skills industries in Australia. It is a shame that the government wants immigrants to come and live here and contribute to their economy, but they would call their child a taxpayer’s burden,” he said.
When the two prime ministers were discussing trade ties and partnerships around culture, education and entertainment, the human rights issues should not have been ignored, as it impacts the people who have ties to both India and Australia.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Albanese about the issue of temple attacks in Australia, however, he didn’t seem to have talked about any such immigration issues.
These issues are based on laws that need reform in an inclusive society.
The timing of the meeting of the two leaders may have worked in favour of this case. That could, probably, be a reason why the immigration minister in Australia granted the visa just in time before the two prime ministers met among all the media attention.
However, it’s important to create awareness about such discriminatory laws and expect the Indian ministry to demand a reform in the discriminatory Migration Act of Australia, as the two countries venture out on a long road to partnership.