November 15, 2014 | the guardian
New visa was critical to gaining Palmer United party support but it is unclear how it would work or how many would be granted
The federal government will need to make more changes to immigration laws before asylum seekers can move from proposed working visas to other visa classes.
The migration and maritime powers amendment would make significant changes to the assessment process for asylum seekers to “fast-track” decision making, and would also reintroduce temporary protection visas.
Part of the legislation – and critical to gaining the support of the Palmer United party – was the creation of a new type of visa called a safe haven enterprise visa (Shev).
But the legislation itself provides few details of how this visa would operate. There is little indication how many would be granted each year and what the criteria would be, with most details left to the minister to make regulations.
During the Senate hearing on Friday into the migration and maritime powers amendment, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection revealed that further legislation would be necessary to ensure asylum seekers could transition between different classes of visas.
The acting deputy secretary of the department’s policy group, Alison Larkins, told the committee: “I can talk about the current intention but there will be a whole other set of legislation that will need to be put in place to manage the access of other visas products for people who hold Shevs and that’s sometime down the track.”
Karen Visser, director of the department’s protection and humanitarian policy section, then clarified to the committee: “Perhaps raft is too generous a word … it’s more that we have to ensure that the pathway the minister intends to create works properly.
“What we have to make sure is the Shev interacts appropriately with those other visa classes, that the pathway is supposed to lead to. That may well require us to make some amendments to the application requirements.”
Labor senator Jacinta Collins and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young both expressed concerns that the visa plans did not appear to be progressing swiftly enough, with the government pushing the committee to report quickly on the legislation.
“Not only do we not have the details of the conditions people will be living under on a Shev, you don’t even have the detail as to how the Shev will work, which is all meant to be designed to have a pathway to permanent,” Hanson-Young said.
Visser responded: “It’s a technical matter that needs to be worked through”.
Collins asked the department whether the visas were a “charade”, but the department rejected this.
“Convince me from the department’s dealing with this matter … are these Shev provisions a charade?” she said.
Visser responded: “No, senator, we are working in good faith to put this product in place … it is not a charade.”
Collins said: “Well the lack of capacity to describe the product raises serious concerns about this bill.”
Liberal senator Ian Macdonald said he was sure the minister “having seen this interaction will write to the committee telling us what he can”.
The Refugee Council of Australia’s chief executive officer, Paul Power, told the committee the changes proposed in the bill would leave asylum seekers in limbo.
“Families known by the government to be experiencing the impacts of persecution will be indefinitely separated if parliament passes the asylum legacy case load bill in its current form,” he said.
“The family member will be trapped, having to decide whether to remain safely in Australia while providing support to other members of the family living in danger or return to situations the Australian government acknowledges would place them at a very high risk of persecution.”