Australia Is Rejecting Visa Applications From Domestic Violence Offenders

March 4, 2019 Updated: March 4, 2019

Foreign visa applicants found guilty of domestic violence in any country will be refused entry at the border due to new rules introduced by the Australian government.

The federal government issued a Ministerial Direction in December 2018 to visa decision-makers under s499 of the Migration Act 1958, meaning anyone known to be convicted of violent crimes against woman and children in any part of the world will not be allowed to enter Australia.

The government used the changes, which took effect on Feb. 28, 2019, to warn domestic violence perpetrators they are no longer welcome in Australia, regardless of the country in which they committed the offence or what sentence was handed down.

“Australia has no tolerance for perpetrators of violence against women and children,” Federal Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs David Coleman said in a public statement. “The message is clear: if you’ve been convicted of a violent crime against women or children, you are not welcome in this country, wherever the offence occurred, whatever the sentence.”

The new direction gives decision-makers from the federal Department of Home Affairs and Administrative Appeals Tribunal the power to stop someone from entering Australia, especially while considering whether to revoke a mandatory cancellation of a visa, or just to cancel or refuse to grant a visa under the Migration Act.

“This means when considering a case, the decision-maker or AAT member must consider all crimes against woman and children as serious and abhorrent crimes, regardless of the length of sentence imposed by the courts,” the statement said. “The direction further specifies that in these circumstances, individuals should generally expect to be denied the privilege of coming to, or to forfeit the privilege of staying in Australia.”

The tighter rules come after the government introduced mandatory cancellation powers in s501 of the Migration Act, which require a person’s visa to be cancelled if they have been sentenced to 12 months or more in prison.

Coleman said the government is now considering more ways it can lower domestic violence-related crime.

“By cancelling the visas of criminals, we have made Australia a safer place,” he said. “These crimes inflict long-lasting trauma on the victims and their friends and family, and foreign criminals who commit them are not welcome in our country.”

In the five years between 2009 and 2013, the left-leaning Labor government cancelled 582 visas under character provisions in the Migration Act. Since 2014 the centre-right Liberal Coalition government has cancelled more than 4,150 visas of foreign criminals—seven times more than the previous period.

In February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised a $60 million (US$42.5 million) grants program for eligible organisations to provide new or expanded emergency accommodation for people experiencing domestic and family violence. Morrison also promised $18 million (US$12.8 million) to construct up to 450 safe places and help up to 6,500 people a year through the existing Keeping Women Safe in their Homes program.

According to the government, the program has helped more than 5,200 women since 2015-16, providing security upgrades and safety planning so women and children can remain in their own homes if safe to do so.

In comparison, federal opposition leader Bill Shorten has promised to provide $60 million (US$42.5 million) in emergency funds to pay rent and buy furniture to Australians who are found to be fleeing domestic violence, if Labor wins the next federal general election in May.

Shorten promises the money will be used to pay for about 20,000 “flexible support packages” for up to four years, which will help women who no longer have a safe place to live provide a safe home for their children and themselves while they attempt to resolve the family issues. The packages will also be available to youth, temporary visa holders, and more.

“These packages are about helping people keep their life together in the most difficult of circumstances,” Shorten said in a public statement to the Australian Associated Press. “[They’re about] keeping the kids in the school they know, keeping the family doctor, being able to stay in work and study.”

Shorten’s package has used Victoria as its model, where flexible support packages have been offered since 2016. Since July 2018, the Victorian government has spent $64 million on more than 19,000 packages and it has plans to expand the program even further.