Immigration experts have warned the federal government’s proposed changes to the Migration Act could see the number of non-citizens deported increase five-fold.
Australia’s Minister for Immigration David Coleman introduced legislation to allow the government to cancel the visas of people who have been convincted of a crime that carries a maximum sentence of at least two years, even if they never served time in prison.
Minister Coleman said tightening character tests based on criminal conduct was necessary to protect the community from harmful people.
In a Senate Committee submission, immigration researchers said the changes would impact those “who are unlikely to be an ongoing threat to the Australian community”, with many non-citizens potentially deported for non-jail time offences such as common assault, which frequently results in the lesser punishments of a fine or community correction order.
Researchers including Abul Rizvi, former deputy secretary of the Department of Immigration, said a hardened character test would “immediately expand the number of people failing”, especially as the legislation could be applied retrospectively, and that it would “exacerbate the divide between citizens and non-citizens”.
The Migration Act was last changed in 2014 under Tony Abbott’s prime ministership, when amendments allowed the immigration minister to cancel a non-citizen’s visa based on association with groups involved in criminal conduct, sexually based offences involving a child, crimes against humanity, and other offences of national and international security concern.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been vocal in opposing the current policy under which people who have lived almost all of their lives in Australia can be sent back to the countries of their birth.
Ms Ardern said the issue had corroded the political relationship between her country and Australia.
From 2012 to 2013, 76 New Zealanders’ 501 Visas were cancelled.
The figure jumped to 1,277 from 2016 to 2017 after the passing of the 2014 amendments.
The new stricter character test proposed by Minister Coleman would be the first to allow deportation of an immigrant who has not served a prison sentence, and could see thousands more non-citizens forced to leave behind their Australian lives and families.