Australia's new visa rules 'will lead to a lot more angst'

4:36 pm on 31 July 2019

Under Australia's new visa requirements, New Zealanders who have committed crimes will face anxiety and uncertainty over their fate in the country, an advocate says.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media at Parliament House in Canberra, 13 February 2019.

Photo: AP

Australia wants to strengthen its deportation policy to have the right to cancel a visa of anyone who commits an offence that attracts a two year jail sentence, even if that sentence is not imposed.

Henry Sherrell, an immigration researcher and former Australian Labor Party advisor, said it could cause a massive spike in people being deported - as well as a lot of angst for people who have committed crimes in the past.

"It is retrospective and it will affect a lot more people than the existing provisions."

Mr Sherrell said that unlike the existing provisions, the visa cancellation is discretionary rather than mandatory.

"Because you're already liable to have your visa cancelled if you have a 12 month jail sentence, this is only going to affect people who have a jail sentence of less than 12 months, or a non-jail sentence such as a fine or a suspended sentence.

"The scope of the people this will affect is larger, but because it's not a mandatory process, it will be up to the Immigration Minister and the Department of Home Affairs here in Australia to cancel a visa and initiate deportation proceedings."

He said that, because we have not seen powers like this before, it will cause a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for New Zealanders in Australia.

"It will lead to a lot more angst, but I also think there will be people who lose their visa and who are deported as well.

"There could be a big spike in the first two years when they might be going through people who have committed crimes in the past."

Mr Sherrell said the bill would affect New Zealanders disproportionally because they tend to live in Australia on indefinite visas rather than apply for residency.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the issue, which he previously described as "corrosive" is now a constant in the relationship with Australia.

Mr Little said he's holding a one-on-one meeting with the Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in London tomorrow and will raise the issue.

"Every time I meet with Peter Dutton, I raise the issues around deportations."

He said the area that concerned him most was people being deported on "nebulous" character grounds.

"This is an issue that every minister talking to a counterpart Australian minister is raising.

"This is a problematic issue between our two countries," Mr Little said.

Immigration lawyer Greg Barns said the change would be retrospective.

"It would mean, for example, people who have been convicted of driving offences, even 10 to 15 years ago, could be deported. It's an extraordinary policy.

"What it does mean is hundreds of thousands of Australians, and that includes tens of thousands of New Zealanders who live in Australia, could be vulnerable to deportation."

Joanne Cox, a spokesperson for Oz Kiwi, the group that lobbies for the rights of New Zealanders living in Australia, said the change could see deportation numbers grow.

"This opens the floodgates ... and the cost to appeal deportation is tens of thousands of dollars, so most people probably don't have the money to appeal the decision. They represent themselves, or the just accept their fate and go.

"It's actually having a really negative affect on families here [in Australia]."

She said "blended" families face the worst of it, where a New Zealand person has partnered with an Australian and has Australian citizen children.

Ms Cox said if one of the parents faces deportation to New Zealand the family faces a difficult decision to either uproot and move or separate.

Australia's Immigration Minister David Coleman said the Morrison government's number one priority was "keeping Australians safe".

"This important legislation applies to all visa holders irrespective of their nationality, and will capture people convicted of serious crimes, including violent crimes, sexual assault, firearms offences, or breaching a family violence order.

"If people who are not Australian citizens have committed these serious offences, then objectively they should fail the character test.

"This is about protecting the Australian community and we make no apologies for that," Mr Coleman said.

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