Australia

Can a new campaign and government change the fate of 120,000 parent visa applications stuck in limbo?

Premdeep Singh Dandiwal and his brother always had a plan for their parents to eventually be reunited with them in Adelaide.
In October 2016, when his parents in India were in their early 60s, Premdeep applied for Contributory Parent Visas, which would have allowed them to relocate to Australia to be close to their only sons.
At the time of the application, the processing time for the visa was 18-24 months.
But things didn’t go as planned. It’s been 67 months since and he’s still waiting for his parents’ visa applications to be processed.
“This has killed us. There has been a lot of restlessness in our family,” Mr Dandiwal, an Indian-born Australian citizen now living in Adelaide, told SBS News.

“The waiting time for this visa was supposed to be 18-24 months but we were misled. It’s been more than five years of restlessness now.”

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Premdeep Singh Dandiwal (second from left) with his family, including his parents (seated in the front row).

Over in Melbourne, a similar story is unfolding in Iranian immigrant Roya Salamati’s life.

In 2017, she and her brother applied for Contributory Parent Visas for her ageing parents who lived in Tehran.
Those visa applications have still not been processed. One of them has been withdrawn because Ms Salamati’s father contracted COVID-19 and died.
“He passed away without saying goodbye to us,” Ms Salamati said.

“Now, my husband, my brother and my mother are the only family I have – I can’t live without my mum. It’s a lot of pressure for me everyday.”

A widespread issue

Mr Dandiwal and Ms Salamati are not alone.
As of 30 April, 123,370 parent visa applications are waiting to be processed by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).
Melbourne-based Marianna Giordana recently launched the #ClearParentVisaBacklog campaign, and says at current planning levels, it’s anticipated that new visa applications will take about 19 years to be granted.
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Roya Salamati (right) with her mother. Roya’s father passed away while waiting for his Australian parents visa to be granted.

“By then, many elderly parents of Australian citizens who live overseas and are desperate to relocate to Australia may not even be alive or in sound health to relocate,” Ms Giordana told SBS News.

According to the DHA’s website, new Contributory Parent visa applications – which cost between $33,355 and $47,825, and aim to contribute to the economy of Australia – “are likely to take at least 65 months to be released for final processing”.
But Ms Giordana says, in fact, these visas are taking about 16 years to process.
“Contributory Parent visas – one of the most expensive visas – are taking 16 years [on] average for processing,” she says.
The processing times for Parent and Aged Parent visas – for which the fee is $6,490 – is even longer.

“New applications lodged that meet the criteria to be queued are likely to take at least 30 years for final processing,” according to DHA’s website.

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Ms Giordana says these kinds of processing times are heartbreaking for parents of migrants who live overseas, often on their own and needing the support of their children in their old age.
“We don’t know how many of these parents are going to be still alive by that time,” she says.
In a statement the DHA said the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the parent visa backlog.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been ongoing disruptions to biometric collection, English-language testing centres, paper application lodgement centres and panel doctor facilities. These services have consequently impacted caseload processing,” the statement said.
But in the cases of both Mr Dandiwal and Ms Salamati, the issue appears to have started well before the pandemic.

Data provided by #ClearParentVisaBacklog and verified by the DHA shows that over the past nine years, a far higher number of parent visa applications are being lodged each year than are being processed.

Graph showing the number of parent visa applications received by the Dept of Home Affairs compared to the number granted.

For instance, in 2013-2014, DHA received more than 26,000 parent visa applications, but only about 9,000 were granted.

In 2020-21, more than 14,000 parent visa applications were received, but only about 5,000 granted.

So what’s the cause of the backlog?

According to Abul Rizvi – former deputy secretary of the Department of Immigration – concern over an ageing population is a factor.
“One of the fundamental objectives of increasing the immigration intake under John Howard, in the early 2000s, was to slow the rate of population ageing in Australia,” he says.
“Of course, if you have a very generous parent policy, immigration doesn’t achieve that objective.
“The capping of parent visas started in 1996, under the Howard government and has continued to this day. The large backlog is a function of capping.”
According to Dr Rizvi, Australia runs the strictest parent migration policy of all comparable to similar countries such as the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

“All other migrant settler countries have also started to tighten up parent migration policy, but I don’t think any of them have reached our stage of tightening,” he says.

The Department of Homes Affairs maintains that the federal government sets planning levels each year “following consultations with state and territory governments, business and community groups and the wider public.”

What does the campaign hope to achieve?

Launched in March, the #ClearParentVisaBacklog campaign provides a for people such as Mr Dandiwal and Ms Salamati, who can share their stories, meet people in similar situations, and advocate for change.
“Through the website, we are collecting all the stories of so many people – how it’s affecting their work,” Marianna Giordana says.
“Some people are actually thinking of leaving Australia because of that issue.”
Her campaign is also reaching out to policy makers. While she says she received some responses from Labor’s Kristina Keneally and Tasmanian Senator Nick McKim, a letter she sent to the former immigration minister, Alex Hawke, she says, went unanswered.

“I tried to reach the minister of immigration through emails but didn’t receive any message back. I also tried to contact liberal MPs, [who] told me to just wait until after the election,” Ms Giordana said.

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With a new Labor government now in power, Ms Giordana hopes her campaign and the plight of hundreds of thousands of migrant Australians, who want to bring their parents to Australia, will receive the attention she says it deserves.
In a speech to the Immigration Law Conference earlier this year, Kristina Keneally – who had been tipped to be Labor’s immigration minister until she lost the Sydney seat of Fowler to Independent candidate Dai Le – said she could not understand “why the ministers for home affairs and immigration did not clear the backlogs in the two years while the international borders were closed.”
Calling it a “top-down failure” she said rebuilding the capacity of Home Affairs would take “not just 100 days, but indeed, months or years.”
“This task will be one of the most important efforts of an Albanese Labor government,” she told the conference.
That’s music to Marianne Giordana’s ears.

“We are really hoping to have a real discussion with the Labor government regarding that matter, and how we can solve that issue,” she said.

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