By Andrew M Potts
Some of the nation’s peak AIDS bodies have used an inquiry into migration by disabled people to lobby for reform of rules affecting immigrants with HIV.
In 2008, Immigration Minister Chris Evans asked the Joint Standing Committee on Migration to look at health requirements in the Migration Act following concerns they only considered estimated costs to taxpayers and did not recognise a person’s ability to contribute to the community.
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre Inc. (HALC), the National Association of People Living With AIDS (NAPWA), and Positive Life NSW have all made submissions to the inquiry, which was announced last May.
Currently, people with a disability or illness must be assessed to present a cost of under $21,000 to taxpayers to receive a visa.
However, the Immigration Department has some leeway in the case of skilled migrants, or people who are partners of Australian citizens, to waive this requirement.
AFAO’s submission called for the Migration Act to no longer be exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act, and for compulsory HIV testing of migrants to cease.
AFAO wrote that HIV tests for refugees should occur after arrival in Australia where they could be referred to appropriate and culturally tailored support and health services.
Positive Life NSW supported AFAO’s calls, while NAPWA voiced concerns about an apparent blanket refusal to admit HIV-positive migrants under the health requirement, despite many cases being successful on appeal.
HALC urged that migrants be assessed by specialists in their condition, and that migrants be allowed to contribute to the health and welfare system differentially to defray costs associated with migration.
However, the strongest criticism came from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which argued that Australia’s current policy was “discriminatory”, and “endangers a number of human rights norms”.
“To that extent, Australia presently falls short of its international obligations,” the UNHCR submission said.
UNHCR wrote that while a waiver was theoretically available, in its experience it was rarely granted.
In response to the UNHCR criticisms, an Immigration Department spokesperson said, “It is longstanding government policy to apply a health requirement to applicants seeking a visa … The need to meet the Immigration health requirement does not ‘effectively bar any refugee found to have HIV or AIDS’.
“Applicants with HIV are assessed in the same manner as an applicant with any other significant disease or condition and HIV of itself will not result in a failure to meet the health requirement. … Costs [calculated] in individual cases will vary depending on the form and severity of the visa applicant’s condition, and how long they intend to stay in Australia.”
The committee continues to accept submissions, with a report due later this year.