How our migration system can help end violence against women

The Australian Government can make our migration system safer and fairer for women.

That’s what our Legal Director Lisa Fowler told a Parliamentary inquiry in Canberra, adding that the changes required are both quick and simple.

Lisa told MPs the first step is to give all women on temporary visas who experience domestic, family and sexual violence and their dependants access to protections, services and justice.

“Introducing a temporary visa for family violence victims will just give (a victim-survivor) that time and space to make decisions about their lives and safety,” Lisa said.

“We understand that lots of women just need time to sort out their safety, arrangements with their children, any legal matters they might be engaging with, undergo the counselling and any medical treatment that they might need.

“They want to enter the workforce; they just need time. But we often find that when they disengage from work or disengage from their studies the universities (and employers) are reporting that to Home Affairs … (who then) questions their commitment to the visa and their eligibility for their visa.’’  

Currently only women who have applied for a partner visa can still be granted their visa without their sponsor if they experience family violence. This opens a possibility to get a permanent visa and access to support such as Centrelink, child support and Medicare . Women on a student, tourist, carer or skilled visa are not extended the same right.

Lisa told MPs it’s a significant issue.

“We know that family violence doesn’t discriminate.”

In Victoria, just 25 out of 150 people supported by Women’s Legal Service Victoria’s migration team were partner visa applicants who were eligible to be granted a permanent visa after they had experienced family violence.

Improving Home Affairs’ staff knowledge of family violence, including how systems like our migration system can be used to control people, is urgently needed.

“We’ve seen a significant culture shift within the (Home Affairs) department around how they’re treating victims of family violence in certain cohorts. We find applicants for partner visas usually have their status resolved quite quickly in a trauma-informed way,” she said.

“But we find that the awareness of family violence and response to family violence in other processing teams is not quite where we would want it to be.

“What we really need to see across all processing teams across the department is regular training around family violence and understanding how the system may be used to perpetrate systems abuse.’’

Lisa fronted Parliament’s inquiry into the role of permanent migration in nation building alongside Women’s Legal Centre ACT’s Vanessa Burn.

The pair co-chair Women’s Legal Services Australia’s migration committee, which advocates for legal and systemic changes so that our migration system is fair.

They told the inquiry how our migration system creates power structures that make women vulnerable to abuse. Like how Home Affairs only communicates with the primary visa recipient, which is often a male.

“Some women who come to us don’t even know the visa status that they have… because they’re just not privy to that,” Lisa said.  

To see the full four-point plan to remove barriers to safety for victim-survivors of domestic and family violence who are on temporary visas, click here.

Women’s legal services are part of the National Advocacy Group on Women on Temporary Visas Experiencing Violence.

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