Australia doubles financial requirement for families of new migrants
The Turnbull government has quietly made it harder for poorer migrant families to financially back their relatives in visa applications.
Significant changes have been made to the assurance of support scheme, a program designed to keep new migrants off welfare by ensuring their families have enough money to support them in their initial years in Australia.
It is compulsory to have a guarantor for some visa categories, including parent, aged dependant, contributory parent and remaining relative, while the home affairs department has a discretionary power to require it in other categories.
But late last month the government changed the amount an assurer needs to earn. In most cases, the families of new migrants will need to earn more than double what was previously required.
For example, if a couple in Australia wants to act as financial backers for their parents, they will need to earn a combined $115,475 a year, instead of $45,185. A single person who wants to vouch for their parents will need to earn $86,606, rather than $45,185.40.
The changes will also significantly increase the amount families need to have as “security” – usually a bank guarantee – for new migrants in some visa categories from April 2019.
The government also intends to introduce the 12-month assurance of support requirement for part of Australia’s humanitarian intake, through the community sponsorship program.
Labor said it had received complaints from the Chinese community about the changes, and was angry they were made without public announcement or debate.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia told Guardian Australia it was very worried about the changes.
The federation’s chair, Mary Patetsos, said “all family reunions [would be affected], regardless of place of origin”.
“The additional costs will have a heavy financial impact on Australian families,” she said. “Family reunion enhances successful settlement, promotes social cohesion and drives economic prosperity.”
A migration agent, Chelsea Liu, who works predominantly with Chinese families, said her clients were confused and worried.
Liu’s organisation, New Stars Education and Migration, has started a petition which already has more than 5,000 signatures.
“Some of our clients, they are already thinking of withdrawing their application, or [getting] family members’ or friends’ help to support their parents as well,” she said. “Maybe there’s another chance maybe you can claim some part-time salary, and that’s another way to increase the income.”
The changes did not require legislation, were made on 26 March and became active on 1 April.
The Labor spokeswoman on social services, Jenny Macklin, described the changes as “very concerning” and said her office had been overwhelmed with emails from “very angry families, particularly from the Chinese community”.
“It is bad form by the Turnbull government to try and sneak this change through parliament without any debate or scrutiny or even a media release from the minister,” she said. “It’s just not good enough.”
The social services minister, Dan Tehan, was not available for comment, but a department spokeswoman said the changes were designed to ensure new migrants were able to support themselves.
“The change will also ensure Australia’s social security system remains sustainable,” she said.
The assurance of support scheme has not been updated for about a decade. The changes seek to align the income requirements with the income cut-off for New start payments. The required income for sponsors depends on the number of people acting as sponsors and the number of migrants they plan to support.
The scheme is designed to make sure sponsors can support the new migrants and themselves. It is understood the new requirements will not apply to applicants who submitted their applications before 1 April.