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Remaking the parent visa system

8 August 20230 comments

About 140,000 parent visa applications are currently awaiting approval in Australia and the lengthy and cumbersome application process, often spanning decades, has left many families in a state of uncertainty, according to a new report.

In the latest Scanlon Foundation ‘Narrative’ series titled ‘The Parent Conundrum’, journalist and author Peter Mares explores the challenges faced by thousands of distressed families caught in a visa purgatory after applying to bring their parents to Australia.

And he examines the cases evidence for and against parent migration while canvassing the practical, political, and ethical challenges of reform.

Mr Mares says the existing policies are untenable and he cites the conclusion reached by the expert panel reviewing Australia’s migration program, which said “providing an opportunity for people to apply for a visa that will probably never come seems both cruel and unnecessary”.

He proposes scrapping the parent visa altogether, saying “in my view, it is ultimately fairer and kinder than the current cruel and dysfunctional system.”

Mr Mares says that if government is not willing to include the parents of adult Australians as family, then it should have the courage to say an outright no to permanent parent migration.

“This is based on a realist political assessment that neither side of politics is likely to mount a sustained campaign to convince voters to dramatically increase parent numbers,” he says.

Mr Mares says maintaining a low annual intake of parent visas would only serve to prolong the current chaotic system.

“In the absence of a commitment to match parent visa places with parent visa demand, I propose that all existing permanent visa categories should be abolished, with the caveat that those parents already in the queue should have their applications processed swiftly,” he said.

“This would require increasing the parent intake to 20,000 places annually for the next five years enabling Australia to work through the existing pipeline of cases.”

Mr Mares says the government prioritise the contributory-visa caseload while working through the backlog, given that families applied for the visa in good faith on the understanding that they would receive a decision within a relatively short period of time.

“They were misled and the government has an obligation to make good on its implicit promises,” he says.

Also, families who choose to withdraw visa applications due to Australia’s excessive processing times should get a refund on payments made, he says.

Mr Mares recommends a new multi entry temporary stay parent visa valid for up to ten years to replace the existing 870 subclass long-stay temporary parent visa and the subclass 600 sponsored family stream visa.

“The 870 visa is cumbersome, expensive and underutilised and has the attendant risk of rendering parents permanently temporary. At the end of ten years — a point not yet reached since the visa was only introduced in 2019 — the subclass 870 visa is likely to generate a high volume of tortuous appeals for parents who are now too frail to return to their country of origin or lack appropriate supports there,” he says.

The sponsored family stream of the subclass 600 Visitor Visa is popular and inexpensive. But a new multi entry temporary stay parent visa valid for up to ten years would be an enhanced offering, Mr Mares says.

“Having a discrete visa for parents, distinct from the main visitor visa program, would enable better monitoring and data collection of how many parents come to Australia and how long they stay, data which is not currently available. The new visa could also carry differentiated requirements for private medical insurance and the posting of assurances of support or monetary bonds,” he says.

Mr Mares says the Labor government should fulfil its election promise and set a concrete timeline for increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake to 27,000 places annually.

He says humanitarian visas should be expanded to include relatives beyond the “nuclear family” and especially dependent parents or parents who are in situations of high risk.

“There are no simple solutions to the parent conundrum and the recommendations I am making here will not satisfy advocates of increased permanent parent migration. Others will see them as overly generous,” Mr Mares said.

“One thing is clear though — the current system fails everyone and must be changed.”

Defending his radical proposal, Mr Mares points out the Contributory Parent visa comes at a cost of $47,955 per person and the Home Affairs website now advises that any new applicants applying for the contributory parent visa will face a processing time of twelve years.

Read the full narrative here: Home | Scanlon institute