The Australian government is once again seeking greater discretionary powers to cancel or refuse immigration visas based on the character of the immigrants after its proposal was defeated in 2019. An amendment to increase the ‘character test’ for immigration — which would result in visas being revoked or denied for those convicted of a major crime — might be tabled in the Senate this week.
In 2019, the Labor and crossbench senators voted against the legislation brought by the Morrison government. A non-citizen convicted of a ‘designated’ felony punishable by at least two years in jail — such as violent or sexual assault offenses — might be denied a visa at the government’s discretion under the new legislation, regardless of the time they serve or have served in the past.
At the moment, the ability to cancel visas is limited to circumstances when a person has been sentenced to more than 12 months in prison. The government also claims that persons whose visas should have been revoked were permitted to remain due to technicalities such as lower prison sentences for guilty pleas or judges who cut sentences to circumvent obligatory visa revocation levels.
According to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services, and Multicultural Affairs, Alex Hawke, present laws offer a loophole that allows persons who pose a danger to the community to remain in the country.
Hawke said, in a statement, that “holding an Australian visa is a privilege that dangerous and aggressive non-citizens do not deserve. For the sake of the community’s safety, Anthony Albanese needs to support this new legislation this week – or explain why he won’t.”
The proposed amendments are being considered by the Labor party. However, Shadow Immigration and Citizenship Minister Kristina Keneally has already expressed worry that low-level offenders may be caught up in the new regulations unwittingly and repatriated. The regulations have strained relations with New Zealand, whose PM Jacinda Ardern has appealed to Australia to stop deporting its criminals on numerous occasions.
Minister Keneally has repeatedly advocated for the exclusion of retrospective violators from regulation, as well as special consideration for New Zealanders. The proposed regulations would also make it more difficult for deportation judgments to be overturned on appeal, according to the administration.
At present, the immigration minister — or a delegate of the minister — has discretionary authority to revoke a visa based on character, but the judgment can be challenged. Courts have already overruled ministerial decisions, such as when former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton tried to deport killer Frederick Chetcuti, who had resided in Australia since he was two years old. Minister Dutton’s judgment to revoke the 73-year-old Maltese man’s visa was reversed after he was unable to demonstrate that he spent more than 11 minutes thinking about the issue.
The government hopes that this law will reduce the number of such cases since a more “objective” test of conviction, rather than the length of time served, will offer less space for appeal. The proposed changes will be introduced in the Senate this week, possibly as early as today, according to Minister Hawke.