The 2019 election and the impending migrant parent deluge - Article by Bob Birrell
An alarmist headline? Not really. This judgement follows from an analysis of Labor’s proposed temporary visa for parents of existing migrants, entitled, a ‘Fairer Long stay parent visa for Australia’s migrant and multicultural communities’. The proposal was announced on 22 April, 2019.
Labor’s proposal is for an uncapped, low cost, temporary parent visa open to all migrant families who are citizens or are permanent residents. It will cost $2,500 for five years regardless of sponsors’ income or capacity to provide for their parents. All four parents in each household can be sponsored. The children eligible to sponsor their parents include all those who are permanent residents or citizens of Australia.
The visa will be renewable thus enabling parents to stay in Australia for ten years without having to leave. This means it is a de facto permanent entry visa since, as sponsors will know, it is highly unlikely that parents who have lived here for a decade will be required to return home.
Labor’s ‘temporary’ parent visa is an unprecedented offer. No other western country provides any similar parent visa. The trend across Western Europe is to tighten already stringent rules on parents’ access to obtain permanent residence status. The US, though it allows adult migrant children to sponsor their parents, has many hurdles, including that the sponsor must be a citizen and must meet financial capacity guidelines. Even Canada, the most overtly welcoming migration country in the west, has an annual cap of 17,000 on parent visas and, as with the US, sponsors must prove that they can meet stringent financial capacity criteria.
As we will see, Labor’s parent proposal dismantles all the careful rules successive Australian governments have, over thirty years, put in place to control parent migration. The door is now wide open for parent sponsorship. This is an especially attractive prospect of Australia’s more recently arrived Asian and Middle-Eastern communities. And here it should be noted that Australia’s Asian- born population (at just over 10 per cent) is higher than any other western country.
Australia is an enticing destination to migrants from Asia because of the large gulf between the political, social and cultural conditions here and in most Asia countries. Given that many immigrants would welcome in-house help with child care and that most Asians recognise obligations to care for their parents, the potential for Australia’s Asian and Middle-Eastern population to take up Labor’s offer is huge.
At present most permanent entry parent visas are from China, mainly because there is a balance of family rule in place. This requires that half or more of siblings are resident in Australia. Many readers will be aware that there is a waiting list of Chinese applicants for Australia’s existing permanent entry parent visa of near 100,000. They will likely take up Labor’s proposed temporary parent visa. However, many more Chinese will also become eligible. (These are people who don’t meet the present financial criteria for sponsorship, which are outlined below.)
The really big change in eligibility will come from Australia’s Indian subcontinent and Middle Eastern communities. They constitute a larger group of potential sponsors than the Chinese. Most do not currently meet the balance-of-family test or the financial requirements of the existing permanent entry parent visa.
Labor’s proposal will make then eligible to bring their parents to Australia. They will have at least as powerful a motive to avail themselves of this opportunity as the Chinese.
Labor’s proposal could easily generate at least 200,000 parent applications, mainly from Chinese, Indian subcontinent and Middle Eastern country residents of Australia, over a three-year period.
The number depends, of course, on how the visa is implemented. This is explored below. The information we have at this point on Labor’s proposal is that it will be open-ended.
To grasp the significance of Labor’s proposal it needs to be seen in the context of Australia’s present rules governing the issuance of permanent entry parent visas. There are two subclasses for parent visas in operation. One is a contributory parent visa where the parents have to pay some $43,600 as an upfront contribution to the likely public costs of their stay. In 2017-18 6,015 of these visas were issued. By June 2018 there was a backlog of applicants of 44,886. The other entry point is a non- contributory parent visa with much lower up-front fees. In 2017-18 1,356 of these visas were issued. For this non-contributory visa there was a backlog of 50,642 and a wait time of over thirty years.
In effect, together the current permanent-entry parent visas are capped at less than 8,000 a year.
Moreover, both permanent-entry parent visa subclasses are only available to pension-aged parents who can meet the balance of family test. This is why most of the parents visaed are from China – since most Chinese residents are from one, or at the most, two sibling families.
However, there is another parent visa option, soon to be available for those wishing to sponsor their parents. This is a temporary parent visa which the Coalition legislated in November 2018. Residents can apply from 17 April 2019 to establish their eligibility as sponsors of their parents.
There is an annual cap of 15,000 parents and accompanying dependent for this new visa. It is for five years, and will cost $10,000. There is a limit of one set of parents for each sponsoring household. To qualify as a sponsor, the Australian resident family’s annual taxable income must exceed $83,000. [Candobetter net Editor: Reference in full paper, see end of this article.]
The visa can be renewed, once, for another stay of up to five years, but the parents need to leave Australia before applying for this renewal.
There was no official statement of the likely number of applications at the time. However internal departmental sources indicate that the 15,000 annual quota is likely to be filled.
Labor’s temporary parent visa proposal was announced in response to the Coalition’s temporary- parent-visa legislation. In response to lobbying from migrant communities, the Coalition promised prior to the 2016 election that it would establish a new temporary visa for parents. As is evident, it took some time for the proposal to be legislated.
When the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, announced Labor’s proposed visa on 22 April 2019, he declared that the Coalition’s temporary parent visa option was ‘heartless, callous and cruel’. It was claimed that the Coalition’s visa was far stricter than originally promised, thus justifying Labor’s much more generous alternative.
As indicated, Labor’s initiative potentially opens the flood gates for parent migration. It appears to be a reckless and irresponsible policy bid put forward to garner migrant votes.
Did the Labor leaders consider the possible implications? It is doubtful that they did.
This article was based on the summary and background sections of the full paper by Dr Bob Birrell published by The Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI) in May 2019. Read more at https://tapri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/final-draft-parent-visa-May-2019.pdf.