Civil Society calls for an end to discrimination against migrants with disabilities

November 28, 2023

More than 70 of Australia’s leading disability and civil society organisations have endorsed wide-ranging recommendations to reform the nation’s archaic and degrading migration health laws.

The recommendations are  part of a submission made by the Welcoming Disability Campaign to a public review of Australia’s migration health requirement being conducted by the Federal Government.

The recommendations call for an end to the Migration Act’s exemption from the Disability Discrimination Act and reforms to ensure that Australia’s approach complies with its legal obligations under core international human rights treaties

Natalie Wade, Chair of Disability Rights at Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) says the Federal Government must change its migration laws so that people with disabilities or health issues are treated fairly and have their human rights respected and protected.

”The current approach is inconsistent with Australia’s legal obligations under core international human rights treaties, particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

“And as a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australia’s migration health framework should protect children from discrimination on the basis of their disability or health status, protect their rights to development and education and place their best interests at the heart of decisions. Currently, it does not,” Ms Wade said.

Darryl Steff, CEO of Down Syndrome Australia says families, who are already making significant contributions to our communities, are being told they may have to leave Australia if they have a child born here with a disability or health condition. 

“Not only is this policy unjust, it reinforces the stigma and discrimination that people with disabilities already face. It’s time for reform so that families stop suffering,” he said.

Jan Gothard, Welcoming Disability Migration Policy Advisor says every visa applicant should have the right to argue that the benefits they bring to Australia outweigh any costs. Furthermore, Australia’s migration health requirement has failed to keep pace with community expectations. 

A review of Australia’s Significant Cost Threshold (SCT), which assesses how much a person will cost in terms of health and community services is absolutely essential.”

“The SCT is an arbitrary assessment of potential health care and community costs that is attached to visa applicants with a disability or health issue and is currently set at around $51,000 over ten years.’ 

“This figure is less than one-third of average health and welfare costs for an Australian. It is completely obsolete and out of step with comparable democracies such as Canada and New Zealand.” 

West Australian social worker and visa applicant, Shizleen Aishath, whose child with a disability was born in Australia, described the Australian Government’s approach as non-inclusive, saying, “It’s degrading and very inhumane. It is an unnecessary and heartbreaking experience where you have to prove your child’s worth as a human being and fight a fight that is unnecessary, time-consuming and, in its entirety, very cruel.”

Kerry Weste, ALHR President and Chair of Children’s Rights said, the depth of support for Welcoming Disability’s recommendations has been overwhelming.

‘It’s time for Australia to replace its outmoded migration health requirements with a framework that is compatible with people’s fundamental human rights and which positively recognises their contributions to our community.”

“There is no reason why we can’t have a migration health requirement that protects public health without arbitrary and archaic discrimination against people with disabilities and health issues.”

Contact: Michael Salmon, ALHR media manager: 0417 495 018

Read a PDF version of the Submission and Recommendations here

Read a WORD version of the Submission and Recommendations here

Read a PDF summary of the Recommendations here

About Welcoming Disability

Established in 2020 Welcoming Disability is a joint civil society campaign led by Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) and Down Syndrome Australia and supported by over 100 legal, disability, health and human rights organisations and experts. We are calling for urgent reform of Australia’s migration health laws to remove their discriminatory impact on people with disabilities and health conditions.

The Welcoming Disability Campaign’s Eight key Recommendations to the Review are endorsed by:

  1. Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR)
  2. Down Syndrome Australia
  3. Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
  4. National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA)
  5. People With Disability Australia
  6. Children and Young People with Disabilities Australia (CYDA)
  7. Women With Disabilities Australia
  8. Inclusion Australia
  9. LGBTIQ+ Health Australia
  10. ACON
  11. Amnesty International Australia
  12. Equality Australia
  13. Australian Women Lawyers Ltd. 
  14. Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA)
  15. Advocacy for Inclusion
  16. Physical Disability Australia 
  17. Rights and Inclusion Australia
  18. Human Rights Law Centre
  19. Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University
  20. Australian Lawyers Alliance
  21. Migration Institute of Australia
  22. Public Interest Advocacy Centre
  23. Neurodivergent Labor
  24. Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS) 
  25. Centre for Law and Social Justice, Newcastle University
  26. Deafness Forum Australia
  27. Cystic Fibrosis Australia
  28. Australasian Society for Intellectual Disability
  29. New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties
  30. Liberty Victoria
  31. University of Sydney Disabilities Collective
  32. Equality Building
  33. Queensland Advocacy for Inclusion
  34. SCALES (Southern Communities Advocacy Legal & Education Service)
  35. AMPARO Advocacy
  36. Imagine More
  37. Disability Voices Tasmania
  38. RIAC (Rights Information Advocacy Centre)
  39. The Growing Space
  40. Speak Out Advocacy
  41. Rights In Action
  42. Kurdish Program on 3ZZZ Community Ethnic Radio 
  43. SANE
  44. Crossing Borders
  45. Equality Lawyers
  46. Down Syndrome Victoria
  47. ACT Down Syndrome
  48. Down Syndrome Queensland
  49. Estrin Saul Lawyers
  50. Dr Jan Gothard, Migration law and policy expert
  51. The Hon Elizabeth Evatt AC
  52. Graeme Innes AM, Former Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner
  53. Professor Adam Jaffe, UNSW Sydney
  54. Professor Julian Trollor, Acting Director, National Centre of Excellence in Intellectual Disability Health; Head of Department of Developmental Disability Neuropsychiatry; NHMRC Leadership Fellow, UNSW Medicine and Health, UNSW Sydney 
  55. Kim Oates AO Emeritus Professor, Client Health, Sydney University
  56. Professor Christine Bigby, Director of the Living with Disability Research Centre, La Trobe University
  57. Professor Keith R. McVilly, University of Melbourne
  58. Cornelia Koch, Adelaide Law School
  59. Dr. Dinesh Palipana OAM
  60. Professor Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University 
  61. Associate Professor Mary Anne Kenny, School of Law and Criminology, Murdoch University
  62. Dr Robin Banks, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania
  63. Michael Small, Director, Equality Building
  64. Helen Said
  65. Nathan Kennedy
  66. Professor Charlie Fox, UWA History Department
  67. Kathryn Viegas
  68. Min Guo
  69. Samantha Norman, RMA
  70. Jane Kenway, Emeritus Professor, Monash University, Professorial Fellow, Melbourne University
  71. Sarah Pettit, Associate Director Mapien