Government Announces Exemptions for Migrant Welfare Cuts

The Australian government has announced exemptions from its controversial plan to introduce a three-year waiting period before newly arrived migrants can qualify for welfare.

Earlier this month the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, announced the government’s new plan to cut $1.3 billion from the annual budget by extending the current two-year waiting period for access to welfare payments to three.

The extended waiting period will also apply to paid parental leave payments, the Carers Allowance, and the Family Tax Benefit, if the Coalition is successful in pushing the necessary legislation through the senate.

However, new documents released by the Treasury now say that there will be “exemptions” given to “vulnerable groups”, along with some citizens from New Zealand who have children in their care.

According to Morrison the move will save $1.3 billion over the next four years.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) was asked to clarify what constitutes a “vulnerable group”, with refugees on humanitarian visas—along with their families—who are fleeing persecution the first to receive exemptions.

Migrants who have experienced a significant financial loss due to a “significant change in circumstance” and also pass a “hardship” test will also be eligible from an exemption from the three-year waiting period.

The DIBP cited the death or permanent disablement of a spouse—as long as that spouse sponsored the migrant’s visa or if they are financially reliant on them—as an example of the “significant changes in circumstance” that would allow for an exemption.

Migrants who are the victims of domestic violence or suffer from “unexpected” medical expenses will also be exempted from the waiting period, along with foreign nationals who become single parents after being granted permanent residency.

The government’s move has been slammed by migrant advocacy groups—including the  Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils (FECCA) of Australia and the Migration Council of Australia—with FECCA chairperson, Mary Patetsos, calling it a “worrying step”.

“The relatively small amount of budgetary savings are going to impact quite severely on some of our most disadvantaged people, vulnerable families, and young children,” Patetsos said.

The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, expressed a positive view of the announcement, saying that it would help to encourage economic participation from new migrants.

“Absolute Immigration is highly supportive of the budgetary measure being taken by the government. Unlike the Skills Training Australia levy, it makes sense to encourage new economic migrants to participate and contribute to the Australian economy,” Lingham said.

“Whilst we agree that there are groups of migrants who need special considerations, our view is that immigration should be about nation building, as opposed to providing significant handouts paid for by the Australian taxpayer. Further, we would suggest that the government look at the type of visas being granted to economic migrants who need welfare and support within a short time of arriving in Australia.”

“If there is a clear trend, then our view would be that the government needs to adjust the selection criteria to ensure that we do not provide visas to people who cannot sustain themselves for the first few years in Australia because they do not have the ability, the means, or the necessary access to community and family support,” he said.

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