AUSTRALIA needs new immigration laws to protect migrant women fleeing family violence, according to the Australian Law Reform Commission. Its final report on family violence and Commonwealth laws, released by Attorney-General Nicola Roxon yesterday, recommends several immigration law reforms to allow migrants on temporary visas to stay and seek help.
Recommendations in the report include:
The creation of a new temporary visa to allow secondary visa holders, such as the partners of international students, to stay in Australia to seek help or apply for residency.
Extending family violence provisions to migrants on prospective spouse visas.
Simplifying the evidence of family violence required by immigration tribunals.
The proposals were welcomed by domestic violence and migrant services struggling with a surge in temporary migrants seeking help.
Reform of the Migration Act is "long overdue," said Fiona McCormack, chief executive of Domestic Violence Victoria. "This is a human rights issue for Australia we have a positive obligation to provide protection to women in Australia to live free from violence. Complexity and inconsistency within the immigration system contributes to the extremely difficult situation faced by migrants and refugees experiencing family violence."
The number of migrant women claiming family violence when applying for permanent visas has increased by 45 per cent in the past financial year. In the same time frame, 250 women on temporary visas sought help from the Immigrant Women's Domestic Violence Service, a 10 per cent increase on 2010. While some have been allowed to stay, others, such as the wives of international students, have no rights under Australian law, and have been deported after leaving their husbands. While the service's chief executive, Maya Avdibegovic, welcomed the recommendations, she called on Immigration to screen sponsors of potential spouses' visas. "The women are promised a good life, they come here and when they have no support, they find out they'll live with a really violent person. Not enough is done to check a sponsor is of good character."
One African woman lived on $100 a week in charity for four years until granted permanent residency in October 2009 after she left an arranged marriage with a man subsequently jailed and then deported for assault of family members.
"Many of the issues these women are forced to face have not been of their own making," said Kathy Russell, manager of the Women's Liberation Halfway House. She said the reforms could help "alleviate the issue of being dependant on services, or maybe friends, to financially support them in all facets of their lives as they have no access to the basic necessities of life."
The federal government has not indicated if it will adopt any of the recommendations in the wide-ranging report, which also takes in Centrelink regulations and superannuation, but its response is expected by mid-year. "The Australian government takes a very strong stance on family violence and child abuse and is committed to improving Commonwealth laws to respond to this issue," Ms Roxon said.