The coronavirus risk Australia is not talking about: testing our unlawful migrant workers



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Marie Segrave, Monash University

As Australia starts to emerge from its coronavirus lockdown, authorities are on high alert for any fresh breakouts of the disease.

One of the risks we need to keep an eye on is hard to see: the tens of thousands of unlawful migrants who work here every day without a valid visa.

My research shows Australia’s unlawful migrant workers already face routine exploitation and in some cases, terrible work conditions. But the arrival of COVID-19 presents new and worrying health challenges, for them and the broader Australian population.




Read more:
This is why Singapore’s coronavirus cases are growing: a look inside the dismal living conditions of migrant workers


In recent weeks, Singapore has gone from global poster child for tackling coronavirus, to the home of more than 19,000 cases, after infections took off among its migrant workers.

Singapore’s migrant workers live in purpose-built accommodation and are officially known to the government. In Australia, our unlawful migrant workers live under the radar, so are even harder to identify and support.

Unlawful migrant workers in Australia

There is little data about the precise numbers of people working in Australia illegally. The best estimate is still a 2011 report to the Gillard government suggesting there are between 50,000 and 100,000 non-citizens working here without permission.

This group is different from temporary visa holders, who are also facing their own financial struggles during the lockdown.

Unlawful migrants workers come to Australia on valid visas and then breach their visas conditions. This includes those who overstay their visas and those who come on a visa without work rights.

In my 2017 research across NSW and Victoria, I spoke to such people who worked in industries including domestic labour, agriculture, hospitality and commercial cleaning.

It is estimated that tens of thousands of people work in Australia without a valid visa in industries such as fruit picking.
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They described physical and verbal abuse, no or low pay, poor accommodation, withholding of passports and threats of being reported to immigration authorities.

The COVID-19 challenge

The arrival of COVID-19 presents new risks for unlawful workers in Australia.

They face destitution if work disappears and new opportunities fail to arrive. A key concern is that unlawful migrants will accept exploitative working conditions, with little or no pay, and no incentive to come forward for help.

In April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told visitors to “return to their home countries” if they cannot support themselves in Australia.

However, this is not a solution for unlawful workers: it is not clear how people would leave or how they would pay for their travel. It is also likely many will be compelled to stay.




Read more:
6 countries, 6 curves: how nations that moved fast against COVID-19 avoided disaster


In my research, I spoke with people who had been in the country for a matter of days and people who had been in the country for close to 20 years – undocumented and working. Often they were sending money home to their family in their country of origin, with some setting up new homes and families in Australia.

Leaving is not a straightforward option.

The public health risks

Unlawful workers also present a public health risk for Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only do they tend to live in overcrowded accommodation, they also tend to move around frequently, seeking work and better living conditions.

Critically, unlawful migrant workers are also reluctant to access community support – for any reason – due to fears they may be reported to immigration authorities and then detained and deported. My research found this group will actively avoid any contact with formal service providers from police to health care workers.

Unlawful migrant workers are unlikely to access healthcare services, such as COVID-19 testing, for fear of being reported to immigration authorities.
Loren Elliott/ AAP

This reluctance presents a risk to their health and that of the broader community: if an unlawful migrant has COVID-19 symptoms, they are unlikely to access testing or health care.

As Australia starts to ease some lockdown restrictions and boosts testing for any signs of COVID-19, it is critical all relevant people in the community come forward if they have symptoms.

We need to build a ‘firewall’

Before the global pandemic, there has been growing recognition, at national and international levels, of the need for a firewall between protections for migrant workers and immigration processes.




Read more:
Is slowing Australia’s population growth really the best way out of this crisis?


A firewall offers dedicated protection for undocumented workers to come forward – to seek health care, or police or other assistance in the context of workplace exploitation – with the clear understanding that their visa status will not be referred on to immigration authorities.

While my research did not find health services reporting unlawful migrants to the Australian Border Force, the role of a firewall is to ensure there is a formal commitment that this will not happen across any community service.

What we need to do now

In the short term, a formal firewall is unlikely because it would require a shift away from the Morrison government’s strong emphasis on border control.

But national and state leaders could send clear reassurances that we want all people to come forward to seek testing and health care workers will not be asking immigration-related questions.

Singapore has seen an increase in coronavirus cases after outbreaks among its migrant workers.
How Hwee Young/ AAP

This then needs to filter down to localised programs. Proactive efforts to reach undocumented individuals and groups is detailed but necessary work and requires trust between parties.

If this message does not get through, we risk a quiet spread of COVID-19 among untested, unlawful residents, who live in close quarters and are often very mobile – and who are unlikely to come forward until they are very unwell.

Singapore’s situation shows what can happen when groups of migrant workers are not prioritised.The Conversation

Marie Segrave, Associate Professor, Criminology, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is slowing Australia’s population growth really the best way out of this crisis?



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Gabriela D’Souza, Monash University

After weeks of pressuring the government to do more to support temporary migrants who fall outside the criteria for government support, the opposition took a surprising stance in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday.

Labor immigration spokesperson Kristina Keneally called for a rethink of our migration program and asked:

when we restart our migration program, do we want migrants to return to Australia in the same numbers and in the same composition as before the crisis?

She said Australia’s answer should be “no”.

To me, as an economist, the answer should be a resounding “yes”.

Keneally’s piece covered a lot of ground – in addition to making claims about whether or not permanent migrants take the jobs of local workers (they don’t) she broached the topic of reconsidering our temporary migration intake and held open the possibility of further lowering our permanent intake.

Migration is a complex often convoluted area of policy

Temporary migrants can’t just turn up

Ms Keneally’s comments imply that coming to Australia as a temporary migrant is easy.

As the following (rather long) flowchart indicates, it is anything but.


Ball, J 2019 Improving the current system, Effects of Temporary Migration, CEDA report

Temporary migration is uncapped: there are no in-principle limits on the number of temporary migrants who can come here. This is by design, so the program can meet the skill needs of our economy at any given time.

However, the government has a number of tools it uses to contain the program and target the right skills.

Keneally makes the point that the arrival of migrants has made it easier for businesses to ignore local talent.

But there are requirements that Australian businesses to tap into the Australian labour market before hiring from overseas.




Read more:
The government is right – immigration helps us rather than harms us


She is right when she says unions and employers and the government should come together to identify looming skill shortages and deliver training and reskilling opportunities to Australian workers so they can fill Australian jobs.

But no matter how good our foresight and our education and training systems, we will always have needs for external expertise in areas of emerging importance.

Training local workers for projects that suddenly become important can take years, during which those projects would stall.

Permanent migrants don’t take Australian’s jobs

Keneally says Australia’s migration program has “hurt many Australian workers, contributing to unemployment, underemployment and low wage growth”.

Australian research finds this to be untrue.

Research I conducted for the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia updating research coducted by Robert Breunig, Nathan Deutscher and Hang Thi To for the Productivity Commission found that the impact of recent migrants (post 1996) on the employment prospects of Australian-born workers was close to zero.

If anything, the impact on wages and labour force participation of locals was positive.

Flexibility gives us an edge

Australia’s migration program is the envy of other countries. Indeed, its success has prompted Britain to consider changing its system to an Australian skills-based system assessed through points.

Temporary migration is certain to look very different over the next few years than it has over past few. That’s its purpose – to adapt to changing circumstances.




Read more:
Yes, it is time to rethink our immigration intake – to put more focus on families


It is difficult to see how a sustained cut in temporary arrivals could assist our recovery.

The bridge to the other side of this downturn will depend on migration. It will depend on us continuing to welcome migrants.The Conversation

Gabriela D’Souza, Affiliate, Monash department of business statistics and econometrics, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Refugees need protection from coronavirus too, and must be released



AAP/Dan Peled

Claire Loughnan, University of Melbourne; Anthea Vogl, University of Technology Sydney; Caroline Fleay, Curtin University; Philomena Murray, University of Melbourne, and Sara Dehm, University of Technology Sydney

Pressure is growing to release people from immigration detention, with lawyers from Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre mounting a court case on behalf of a refugee seeking protection from COVID-19. They argue the federal government has a duty of care to refugees, which cannot be met in immigration detention due to the crowded conditions there.

This test case illustrates the urgency of the need to release people from detention.

The forgotten people

The social distancing measures adopted across Australia appear to be halting the spread of the coronavirus in the general community. But the Australian government continues to fail to provide proper protections for many groups who are most at risk. They include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities, people in prisons and youth detention centres, and those who are forced to remain in sites of immigration detention.

This leaves them, and the rest of us, at serious risk of infection.




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The British Home Office has begun releasing people from immigration detention to stem a potential escalation of their public health crisis. Some 400 people have been released to date.

In the US, rates of infection in immigration and prison sites have dramatically increased in recent weeks. One prison in Ohio reported 73% of inmates have tested positive to coronavirus.

To stall the spread of infection, several US courts have ordered the release from immigration prisons of people who are at particular risk of COVID-19 infection. One judge found US immigration officials had:

likely exhibited callous indifference to the safety and well-being of the [detained immigrants at risk]. The evidence suggests system-wide inaction that goes beyond a mere ‘difference of medical opinion or negligence’.

The Australian government can no longer ignore calls throughout Australia to take similar action to protect people in detention and the broader community. In February this year, the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s report on monitoring places of detention had already flagged the need for stronger protections for people who have been deprived of their liberty.

The situation in Singapore shows what can happen when measures are not taken to protect everyone. The pandemic escalated there through its rapid spread in migrant worker dormitories. They had been overlooked in Singapore’s “gold standard” response to COVID-19.

Public health experts around the world, including the World Health Organisation, have established that confined sites like detention centres provide ideal conditions for infections to spread rapidly.

The impossibility of social distancing in detention

About 1,400 people are in immigration detention in Australia. This includes Alternative Places of Detention (APODs), where many refugees have been detained for prolonged periods, including in confined hotel settings.

People held in the crowded detention centres and APODs in Australia have highlighted the impossibility of social distancing. They are using daily protests and social media to call for their urgent release into safe accommodation.

There is also widespread concern in the Australian community about the lack of protection being provided to people in immigration detention. Over 1,000 academics, doctors and health professionals signed an open letter, initiated by Academics for Refugees, Doctors for Refugees and Librarians for Refugees, calling for the release of people from onshore and offshore immigration detention.

What are the risks?

Transmission of COVID-19 occurs mainly through respiratory droplets, as well as through contact with skin and other surfaces. It is highly contagious and spreads quickly in closed spaces.

Reports received from inside immigration detention sites indicate staff have adopted limited or no protective measures. Those detained have limited or no access to hand sanitiser.

There are serious risks due to overcrowding and people are often transferred from one immigration detention centre to another. These factors magnify the risks and are in conflict with government guidelines to control the virus.

These concerns also apply to APODs such as hotels. Here refugees are detained in small, confined spaces with limited or no ventilation. These conditions are even more likely to promote the spread of viruses and disease.

COVID-19 infection is a particular threat for those whose health is already compromised or who have underlying medical conditions, as they are at higher risk of developing serious complications. This includes people detained in Australia who have compromised immune systems as a result of inadequate access to medical care over a number of years.

There are also concerns for the health of those held in offshore detention. Refugees and asylum seekers currently in Nauru and Papua New Guinea are particularly vulnerable because of their living arrangements, the limits on their ability to take proactive preventive measures to protect their own health, their status as non-citizens, and their limited access to medical care.

Recent reports indicate a spike in infections in Papua New Guinea. Should an outbreak occur that is beyond the capacity of the country to respond, the impact for refugees living there would be disastrous.




Read more:
Explainer: how will the emergency release of NSW prisoners due to coronavirus work?


As most detainees have varying contact with people outside detention, the risk extends to the broader community. Failure to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 among detainees will not only expose these groups to unacceptable risk, it will inevitably have a detrimental impact on the community at large.

What action is urgently required from the government?

Immediate government action is required to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 among people forced to remain in immigration detention.

These measures must include:

  • immediately using alternatives to detention to provide those who are in immigration detention with appropriate accommodation in the community

  • ensuring those who remain in detention are informed in a language they understand about the risks of COVID-19, the availability of testing and measures they can take to prevent the spread of infection

  • enforcing best-practice sanitation measures and social distancing in immigration detention to maintain the health and safety of detainees and staff

  • applying enhanced testing procedures in places of immigration detention and ensuring all staff are appropriately screened – similar procedures should apply for Nauru and PNG

  • ensuring all people on bridging visas have access to appropriate medical care that matches Australian community standards

  • ensuring asylum seekers and refugees with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in Nauru and PNG are assessed and treated in accordance with Australian standards. If necessary, they should be transported to Australia for medical care.

They need the government’s protection as much as the rest of us.


We thank Mary Anne Kenny, Madeline Gleeson and Angeline Ferdinand for their advice.The Conversation

Claire Loughnan, Lecturer, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne; Anthea Vogl, Senior lecturer, University of Technology Sydney; Caroline Fleay, Associate Professor, Curtin University; Philomena Murray, Professor, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, and Sara Dehm, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘People are crying and begging’: the human cost of forced relocations in immigration detention



RICHARD WAINWRIGHT/AAP

Michelle Peterie, The University of Queensland

Between July 2018 and August 2019, the Home Affairs Department spent A$6.1m flying refugees, asylum seekers and other immigration detainees around Australia.

This figure includes $5.7 million for charter flights and $400,000 for commercial flights with airlines like Qantas. It does not include the cost of keeping planes on standby and transporting staff who accompany detainees. Neither does it include the cost of transporting detainees by road.

Details of these and other expenses have led Labor to ask why minister Peter Dutton’s departmental costs continue to rise. Given revelations the government spent $26.8 million reopening Christmas Island detention centre to hold a single family last year, this is a pressing question.




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Yet deeper questions about what these relocations involve and how they affect detainees and their supporters have been largely ignored. As a researcher studying immigration detention, I can attest forced relocations impose profound human costs.

Over the past five years, I have conducted over 70 interviews with regular visitors to Australia’s onshore immigration detention centres. Speaking with volunteers and advocates, as well as detainees’ friends and family members, I have collected witness accounts of conditions and practices within the system.
A constant theme in these interviews has been the harm caused by involuntary transfers.

How many forced transfers are occurring

When we think of immigration detention centres, we often imagine places of confinement. This is accurate, but it is not the full picture.

Refugees and asylum seekers in Australia’s onshore detention system are held in prison-like facilities on the outskirts of our capital cities or – in the case of Christmas Island and Yongah Hill in Western Australia – in remote parts of the country.

In December 2019, there were at least 504 refugees and asylum seekers within the system, as well as hundreds of other immigration detainees, including those about to be deported. Detention can last months or even years.




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How people in immigration detention try to cope with life in limbo


As monotonous as detention can be, detainees are not allowed to become comfortable. Between July 2017 and May 2019, there were 8,000 involuntary movements within the system. Some of these were deportations, but others were forced transfers between facilities.

Detainees are rarely given an explanation when they are moved. The opacity of the practice is undoubtedly one of its concerning aspects, and has been criticised by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). In a report last year, the commission recommended that when a relocation occurs

the department and facility staff should ensure as far as possible that the person […] receives a clear explanation of the reasons for the transfer.

Federal police outside Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre to monitor a 2012 protest against refugee detention.
REBECCA LEMAY/AAP

‘Sheer, random cruelty’

Participants in my study stressed the secrecy of relocations. Detainees were typically moved with minimal warning or explanation. At times they knew a transfer was pending, but they were often moved with just a few hours’ notice.

In some instances, the staff woke detainees up and gave them minutes to collect their belongings. As one regular visitor to Yongah Hill Detention Centre described it,

It was always early in the morning – you’ve got 10 minutes to pack your bags. And they would lose things. They were always in such a hurry. It was made to be traumatic for them.

Confronted with what a visitor to the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation described as “the sheer, random cruelty of it”, detainees felt their vulnerability. So, too, did those left behind.

There’s constantly distressing scenes as one family or another is being dragged away to be put on a plane with very little notice. And it’s so upsetting for all the other refugees […] that they’re seeing people get hauled off and people are crying and begging […] You never know if it’s going to be you tomorrow morning.

The AHRC has documented the “excessive” use of restraints during transfers. Just in the last fortnight, the Commonwealth Ombudsman observed that handcuffs had become “accepted transfer practice” during transport operations.

In his recommendations, the ombudsman advised

the Aviation Transport Security Regulations [to] restrict the use of mechanical restraints to circumstances where there is a genuine risk to the safety of the aircraft that cannot be mitigated by any other option.

The human costs of forced relocations

Beyond the stress of the transfer process, relocations separate detainees from support networks within the facilities, as well as friends, advocates, doctors and lawyers in the community. As a regular visitor to Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation explained, the relocation experience is one of loss.

They might put down roots and get a few mates where they are, but when they move they lose those bonds that they’ve developed. If they’re getting any medical help they lose that contact with that medical care, their ability to learn English gets less.

Interstate transfers are particularly devastating for people with families in the community. Partners and children without social or financial resources in Australia can rarely travel to visit loved ones.




Read more:
Explainer: how Australia decides who is a genuine refugee


The despair caused by relocations is perhaps best exemplified by stories I heard of detainees self-harming immediately before or after a transfer.

These testimonies accord with previous research at Victoria University that has found a link between forced relocations and self-harm in immigration detention facilities. Forced transfers, this researcher found, are among a number of “precipitating factors or triggers for self-harm” in both immigration detention and prison settings.

An unconscionable practice

The practice of moving detainees around Australia’s immigration detention network is doubly unjustifiable on economic and humanitarian grounds. A consistent finding from my research is that forced relocations cause harm. They harm detainees, and they harm the people who love and support them.

As a country, we can find better ways to spend taxpayer money.The Conversation

Michelle Peterie, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New research shows Chinese migrants don’t always side with China and are happy to promote Australia



Australian media coverage of China can feel alienating to Chinese migrants, but most still hold a positive view of their adopted country.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Wanning Sun, University of Technology Sydney

The Australian government has indicated that “diaspora communities” are crucial to Australia’s public diplomacy mission to promote the country abroad. It has also identified online and social media as essential “public diplomacy tools”.

But in terms of projecting an attractive image of Australia to potential tourists, students and investors in China, the task is not that simple.

Too often, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s earnest soft power goals are undermined by various political agendas and concerns over foreign interference and national security.

As for the media, the ABC has attempted to connect with Chinese audiences by offering some of its online content in Mandarin. But the ABC’s coverage can still feel alienating to Chinese migrants. This stems from a feeling that much of its reporting conforms to a pre-determined narrative of the danger of China’s rising influence in the country.




Read more:
How Australia’s Mandarin speakers get their news


What Chinese migrants think of Australia

The role of Chinese migrants in public diplomacy, meanwhile, is little understood.

Earlier this year, we conducted a survey of more than 800 Australia-based, Mandarin-speaking social media users as part of a study of Chinese-language digital and social media in Australia.

Our aim was to determine how Chinese migrants view both Australia and China, how news coverage of both countries shapes these views, and whether they feel they have a role to play in promoting either country.




Read more:
Morrison says China knows ‘where Australia is coming from’, after meeting Chinese vice-president


We asked participants whether they have generally positive views about their experience of living or studying in Australia and how often they share these views with potential Chinese visitors or migrants to Australia.

Perhaps surprisingly, our survey respondents answered with a resounding “yes”, despite the alienation they sometimes feel from English-language media and a sense their allegiance to Australia is regularly being questioned.

When asked how often they share positive stories about Australia via Chinese social media platforms, 72% of respondents said they often or sometimes shared such information.



A similar level of pro-Australian sentiment was evident when participants were asked how often they share negative stories about Australia from the local Chinese media or English-language media. (For example, stories about the high cost of living, racism against Chinese or the boring lifestyle.) Nearly 77% said they rarely or never share such stories.

When asked with whom they share positive or negative stories about Australia, nearly two-thirds said “Chinese people living in China”, while 28% said Chinese immigrants living elsewhere in the world.

Interestingly, our survey participants’ willingness to promote Australia to Chinese people worldwide did not mean they had negative views about China. Nearly 80% said they would also be willing to promote China to Australians as a tourist destination or potential place for business opportunities.

Not overly pro-China on sensitive issues

This speaks to the ability of Chinese migrants to sustain dual loyalties to Australia and China, without much apparent conflict between the two.

Our respondents also showed a considerable degree of sophistication in their views on China–Australia relations and issues the Australian media typically present in a polarising manner. When asked whether they sided with China or Australia on these issues, we saw an interesting split.



For example, a significant number of participants said they sided with China in relation to disputes over Huawei (73%) and the South China Sea (79%). However, support for China was dramatically lower in relation to China’s influence in Australia (40%), trade disputes (38%) and, perhaps most surprisingly to many Australians, human rights (just 22%).

Even though they didn’t back China on these last four issues, participants didn’t give their unambiguous support to the Australian viewpoint, either. The number of respondents who chose “not sure” on these four issues ranged between 32% and 45%.

Human rights was the only issue where more respondents sided with the Australian viewpoint rather than China’s (46% compared to 22%).

Negative news on China leads to unhappiness

Similarly, when respondents were asked how they felt about negative news about China or the Chinese government in the Australian media, they expressed a range of opinions.



Respondents were nearly equally split on the fairness of such reporting, with 27% saying they felt the Western media portrayed China in an overly negative light and 22% saying they felt such reporting allowed them to know the truth about China.

The most popular response, however, was telling: 35% of participants said they felt unhappy because of the hostility of the Australian media to China, regardless of whether or not the reporting was truthful.

This suggests that while most Chinese-Australians are generally supportive of Australia, the mainstream media’s narrow focus on China’s influence seems to impact negatively on their happiness and overall feeling of connectedness with Australian society.




Read more:
Megaphone diplomacy is good for selling papers, but harmful for Australia-China relations


What this means for public diplomacy

Overall, Chinese migrants in Australia are spreading a positive message about the country voluntarily. They do so without any support from the Australian government, and despite the often negative reporting about China in the Australian media and hyperbolic public aspersions cast on them.

Based on our findings, it would behove the Australian government to try and find ways to harness this largely bottom-up, pro-Australian, word-of-mouth energy in the service of public diplomacy.

This is especially important now, given the dire state of diplomatic relations between our two countries.The Conversation

Wanning Sun, Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The evidence is clear: the medevac law saves lives. But even this isn’t enough to alleviate refugee suffering



Protesters holding a vigil last year for deceased asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei, who died in a Brisbane hospital due to an infection at the Manus Island detention centre in 2014.
Darren England/AAP

Sara Dehm, University of Technology Sydney

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has some sobering reading to do over the coming weeks: an 88-page Senate report into the government-sponsored bill to repeal the medevac law that allow refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to seek medical care in Australia. The publication of the report last Friday paves the way for a Senate vote on the bill in mid-November.

As predicted, the Senate committee that issued the report split along party lines, with the Coalition majority calling for the medevac provisions to be repealed and the ALP, Greens and Centre Alliance senators releasing dissenting reports.




Read more:
Lambie stays mute on medevac vote after Senate inquiry splits on party lines


What is less predictable is how the report will influence Lambie’s deciding vote. She has indicated she will approach the bill as a conscience vote, saying

Tasmanians don’t want deals done over humanity.

An overwhelming health crisis in offshore detention

The medevac law allows a person to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment or assessment if two Australian-registered doctors recommend such care is necessary and unavailable in PNG or Nauru. There are limited exceptions for the minister of home affairs to reject a transfer on security and character grounds.

Since the law came into effect in March, over 130 people have been transferred for care.

The Coalition government maintains the pre-medevac medical transfer policy for refugees was adequate. This allowed transfers only in life-threatening cases in which the required specialist medical care could not be provided on PNG, Nauru or a third country like Taiwan.

However, evidence given to the Senate committee showed a drastic drop in medical transfers to Australia from 2015 to mid-2018, despite clear medical need.

Statistics given to the committee by the National Justice Project, a not-for-profit legal service that acts on behalf of refugees, documented how some patients had to wait more than four years for medical transfers to Australia.

Tony Bartone, the Australian Medical Association president, described the government’s pre-Medevac process as “torturous” and involving “long periods of delay,” without any appropriate oversight.

Court injunctions and prospective litigation from mid-2018 onwards did compel the government to bring around 350 people to Australia for urgent medical treatment or as an accompanying family member. But such court interventions can be costly, slow and resource-intensive for those in need of immediate medical attention.




Read more:
Peter Dutton is whipping up fear on the medevac law, but it defies logic and compassion


And that need is still extremely high for those refugees remaining in offshore detention. An independent health assessment in June found a staggering 97% of those in detention and processing facilities have been diagnosed with physical health conditions. A further 91% were experiencing mental health problems, including severe depression and PTSD.

All but two of the 95 public submissions received by the committee were strongly in favour of retaining the medevac law.

Tellingly, those two submissions were from the Department of Home Affairs and the International Health and Medical Service, a government-contracted health provider on Nauru.

Overlooked refugee suffering in Australia

What is missing from the Senate report is any mention of the intolerable situation that refugees and asylum seekers face even after they have been transferred to Australia.

Although people can access critical medical treatment here, most remain in community detention, facing economic insecurity and legal uncertainty about their future. Research shows such legal limbo can lead to feelings of despair and dehumanisation.

The day before the report’s release, 32-year-old Afghan doctor Sayed Mirwais Rohani died in Brisbane, the victim of an apparent suicide. Rohani had come to Australia for medical treatment two years ago, after spending four years in immigration detention on Manus Island.

After his death, his former roommate posted on Facebook:

We shared same pain for long time, long enough to destroy someone’s life.

Rohani’s death was at least the 13th among refugees held in offshore detention on Manus or Nauru.

‘Trying to kill themselves because they’ve lost hope’

No doubt the government will use the Senate report to convince Lambie to support its bill when the vote happens next month.

So far, Lambie has remained relatively reticent, even if she did rebuff Dutton’s claim that the “vast majority of veterans” want her to vote to repeal medevac.




Read more:
Explainer: how will the ‘medevac’ bill actually affect ill asylum seekers?


Instead, Lambie indicated she would look to “national security” considerations in weighing up the report’s findings, including the dissenting reports. She has in the past called for children not to be in immigration detention and voted against the Coalition government’s bill to introduce temporary refugee visas in 2014.

Even if the medevac provisions stay in place, the status quo of Australia’s offshore detention regime remains unsustainable and inhumane.

As former MP Kerryn Phelps, a key architect of the medevac law during her brief time in parliament, stated in her evidence to the Senate committee, refugees and asylum seekers are

not trying to make a point; they’re trying to kill themselves because they’ve lost hope.The Conversation

Sara Dehm, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison brings immigration centre stage with freeze on refugee intake


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will seek to bring the debate over immigration and refugees to the centre of the election campaign, with an announcement that a Coalition government would freeze the humanitarian intake.

He will contrast this with Labor plans for an increase in the humanitarian component, claiming this would cost many billions of dollars and challenging Bill Shorten to produce more detail about the consequences.

So far immigration has not had a prominent place in the campaign. The border security issue went quiet when the expected large number of applications for transfer from Nauru and Manus after the medevac legislation failed to materialise.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Palmer flypaper sticky for both sides


Morrison on Sunday will announce that the number of migrants coming to Australia as refugees will be frozen at 18,750.

He will appear at a rally with John Howard, who as prime minister was strongly associated with a tough border policy.

The government has already announced a cap on the migration program of 160,000. The previous cap was 190,000, although the actual intake had fallen to about 160,000.

It will contrast its freeze on the humanitarian intake with Labor’s plan to increase it to 32,000 by 2025-26.

Morrison will also outline the proposed makeup of the humanitarian program for the first time. This will include an overall target of 60% of the offshore component allocated to women. Women made up 50.8% in 2017-18.

The Coalition’s Women at Risk program, as a proportion of the offshore component, would be increased from 14% in 2017-18 to 20% (3,500) in 2019-20.




Read more:
Labor’s crackdown on temporary visa requirements won’t much help Australian workers


The government also plans to try to boost the number of refugees and humanitarian entrants settled in regional areas from a target of 30% to 40% in 2019-20. But it stresses that people would not be forced to areas that did not want them.

Some 27% of the humanitarian program will be reserved for Women at Risk and the Community Support Program, which is private sponsorship from church and community groups.

In comments ahead of the Sunday announcement, Morrision said: “We’ve got our borders and the budget under control. We make decisions about who comes here based on what’s in Australia’s interests.

“Australia isn’t just about growing our population – it’s about quality of life. We’re capping and freezing our immigration growth so our government’s record A$100 billion congestion busting program for roads and rail can catch up and take the pressure off our cities.”




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Morrison said the government had been upfront that it was reducing the migration intake cap and capping the number Australia let in under its humanitarian program – that was one of the most generous in the world.

“We are telling where we’ll be taking migrants from, who they will be, the skills we want them to have, and working with regions to settle people in towns that want and need more workers, skills and students.

“It’s time for Bill Shorten and Labor to front up and tell Australians about their $6 billion plan to massively increase immigration and where they’re going to house thousands of extra people.

“Labor’s immigration bill is going to go through the roof and the only way they can pay for it is taking $387 billion in higher taxes from Australians.”

The government some time ago put a costing of $6 billion over the medium term on increasing the government-funded humanitarian intake from 17,750 to 27,000 by 2025-26.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dog whistles, regional visas and wage theft – immigration policy is again an election issue


Jock Collins, University of Technology Sydney

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


Immigration policy will be a major issue in the 2019 federal election. We know this because immigration has featured significantly at every Australian election since the 2001 “children overboard” election.

David Marr and Marian Wilkinson argued in their 2003 book, Dark Victory, that willingness to play the race card in relation to boat people was a decisive factor in John Howard’s election victory. For Tony Abbott, “Stop the boats” was a major campaign theme when the Coalition won back government in the 2013 election. The current prime minister, Scott Morrison, rose to prominence as Abbott’s unyielding immigration minister who stopped the boats.




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While the events of Christchurch may have cramped the opportunity for the Coalition to run hard on fear, promising to be tough on borders and tough on (Muslim) terrorism, the dog-whistle politics on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers will be there for those wanting to hear it.

For Labor these policy issues have been difficult. It was Kevin Rudd who as PM declared that those arriving by boat would never be settled in Australia, irrespective of the validity of their claims for protection under the UN Refugee Convention. Labor supported efforts to get children out of detention on Manus Island, but doesn’t want to give the conservatives too much space to convincingly advance a “Labor weak on border security” line.

Humanitarian intake is growing

The Coalition governments of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison have in fact increased Australia’s annual humanitarian intake significantly. The number has risen from just over 13,750 to more than 18,000 – though the government has not loudly broadcast this fact.

In addition, Abbott in 2015 announced a one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian conflict refugees. Most of them arrived in 2017, effectively doubling the annual refugee intake in that year.

Australia – and the refugees – coped well, demonstrating the nation’s capacity to significantly increase refugee intakes. Our research with newly arrived Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugee families suggests they are settling well in Australia, receiving a warm welcome from locals in the cities and regional centres. Employment and family reunification are their key worries.




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Refugees are integrating just fine in regional Australia


Labor’s shadow immigration minister, Shayne Neumann, has flagged a new temporary sponsored visa for the parents of migrants. Unlike the current visa, it does not have a cap and it might assist refugees to get their parents to Australia.

Labor has announced it will increase the annual humanitarian intake of refugees to 27,000 by 2025. It will also abolish Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). These visas provide boat arrivals who are found to be refugees the right to stay for only three years with work and study rights and access to Centrelink payments. As Labor argues, this places them “in a permanent state of limbo”.

The Coalition parties have not announced their policy intentions in relation to humanitarian intakes or the rights of asylum seekers, including those who arrived by boat.

At a time when Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton scans the horizon for new boat arrivals, record number of asylum seekers are arriving by plane under tourist visas. In 2013-14, there were 18,718 asylum applications, including 9,072 boat arrivals. This had increased to 27,931 asylum applications, with no boat arrivals, by 2017-18.


Department of Home Affairs

Each year the Australia government sets the permanent immigration targets. Until recently this was set at 190,00. In practice just 162,000 immigrants have been admitted over the past year or so.

A token cut and 2 new visas

In this context Prime Minister Morrison’s announcement that the permanent immigration target will be cut to 160,000 is really no change in immigration policy. There is nothing to see here if you dismiss the need to be loudly anti-immigration in the current populist political climate.




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The announcement is linked to congestion-busting in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. It is accompanied by the introduction of two new visa pathways – the Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) Visa and the Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) Visa – for skilled migrants to live and work in regional areas for five years.

These visas offer the carrot of permanent residency at the end of three years to attract new immigrants to regional Australia. In addition, the budget announced that scholarships to the tune of $94 million over four years would be available to domestic and international students who study there.




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Settling migrants in regional areas will need more than a visa to succeed


Temporary migrants exploited

Most immigration policy debates centre on permanent immigration intakes, particularly of humanitarian immigrants and asylum seekers. Yet annual temporary migrant intakes – international students, working holidaymakers and temporary skilled workers – are three times greater than the permanent intake. Over 800,000 temporary migrants were in Australia in June 2018.

One key policy issue is the exploitation of temporary migrant workers. The Turnbull government abolished the 457 temporary skilled migration visa because of increasing reports of abuse and exploitation by employers.

One recent survey of 4,332 temporary migrant workers found “increasing evidence of widespread exploitation of temporary migrant workers, including wage theft”. Half of all temporary migrant workers may be underpaid. About one in three international students and backpackers earned $12 an hour or less – about half the minimum wage.

This issue goes not just to the ethics of maintaining a temporary migration program largely premised on migrant worker exploitation. It also resonates with Labor’s campaign for a living wage and the restoration of penalty rates for workers in response to the low rate of real wage growth in Australia, which constrains consumer demand.




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The 2019-20 federal budget allocated extra funding to the Fair Work Ombudsman to bolster enforcement action against employers who exploit vulnerable workers and announced the National Labour Hire Registration Scheme to target rogue operators in the labour hire industry. However, the research suggests wage theft is widespread in the small business sector, a key target for tax relief in the budget. It is an area of immigration policy that requires considerably more resources and punch.The Conversation

Jock Collins, Professor of Social Economics, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The government is right – immigration helps us rather than harms us


Robert Breunig, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Opponents of Australia’s strong immigration program will be disappointed.

In announcing a cut in Australia’s migration ceiling from 190,000 to 160,000 per year, federal population minister Alan Tudge launched an all-out defence of immigration as a driver of economic prosperity.

It has not only boosted gross domestic product and budget revenue, as would be expected when with more people, but also also living standards – measured as GDP per person. Tudge explained:

This is often not sort of fully understood. Not only does population growth help with GDP growth overall, but it helps with GDP per capita growth too. It’s actually made all of us wealthier.

In fact, Treasury estimates that 20% of our per capita wealth generated over the last 40 years has been due to population factors. How does that come about? In part because when we bring in migrants, they come in younger than what the average Australian is. On average, a migrant comes in at the age of 26. The average age of an Australian is about 37. So it very much helps with our workforce participation, and that’s essentially a big driver of our GDP per capita growth.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison added:

I would also mention from a pensions point of view and social welfare point of view, achieving more of a balance in the working-age population means there’s more people in the working age to actually pay for the pensions and the welfare bill for those who aren’t able to be in the workforce and with an ageing population.

The lower ceiling announced on Wednesday will make little difference to Australia’s migrant intake. It is already close to 160,000, at about 162,000. Other changes will attempt to influence where migrants settle.

Two new regional visas for skilled workers will require them to live and work in less urban Australia (outside of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and the Gold Coast) for three years before being able to become a permanent resident. Of the 160,000 potential places, 23,000 will be set aside for these visa-holders. International students studying outside the big cities will get access to an extra year in Australia on a post-study work visa.

Immigration shouldn’t supress wages

Tudge’s acceptance that migration neither boosts unemployment nor cuts wages is consistent with most evidence from Australia and overseas.

New arrivals increase the supply of workers (such as teachers and house-builders), which might be expected to depress existing residents’ wages. But there are two countervailing forces.

First, migrants also increase the demand for goods and services (as the arrivals’ children get taught and their homes get built), which might be expected to boost preexisting residents’ wages.

Second, if migrants fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled, they can boost the productivity, and hence the wages, of existing residents.

Most studies of migration shocks, such as the repatriation of more than a million French citizens to metropolitan France after the Algerian civil war, have found that the net effect is close to zero.

There is hardly any evidence that it does

An exception is work in the United States by George Borjas, who found that the boatlift of 125,000 mostly low-skilled immigrants from Cuba to Miami in 1980 did suppress the wages of low-skilled Miami workers, if not Miami workers overall. But this finding has been disputed.

In 2015 Nathan Deutscher, Hang Thi and I set out to replicate his work, using changes in the immigration rates of different skill groups to Australia to identify the effects of immigration on the earnings and employment prospects of particular groups of Australian workers.

Our data came from the Australian Census, the Surveys of Income and Housing, and the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey.

We isolated 40 distinct skill groups at a national level, identifying them with a combination of educational attainment and workforce experience and examined six outcomes – annual earnings, weekly earnings, wage rates, hours worked, labour market participation rate, and unemployment.

We explored 114 different possibilities, controlling for macroeconomic conditions and for the fact that immigrants to Australia are disproportionately highly skilled with higher wages.

In Australia, we found next to none

We found immigration had no overall impact on the wages of incumbent workers. If anything, the effect was slightly positive.

Some of our estimates showed immigration had a negative effect on some groups of incumbent workers, but the positive effects outnumbered negative effects by three to one. The vast majority of effects were zero.

The statistical basis for our finding of no overall effect was incredibly strong. It more than passed the standard tests.

Our research only looked at one, very limited, aspect of immigration. Immigrants can also bring cultural and demographic benefits. And until infrastructure catches up, they can increase congestion.

But immigration doesn’t seem to harm either jobs or wages, a point the Morrison government is right to acknowledge.




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Solving the ‘population problem’ through policy


The Conversation


Robert Breunig, Professor of Economics and Director, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.