Under the radar: making immigration policy during an election campaign

A growing demand for better family reunion pathways has bubbled away in migrant communities. A former policy official explains the unintended consequences when immigration policy is dominated by asylum.

Two weeks before the federal election on July 2, Labor announced an immigration policy for parents of permanent residents and Australian citizens. With first-generation migrants driving high population growth since the turn of the millennium, a growing demand for family reunion has bubbled away under the surface of immigration policy, out of sight from the day-to-day decisions and media attention.

Because of this, you likely wouldn’t have read about Labor’s new policy in the paper, nor seen any reporting on the nightly news (apart from SBS). Targeted at ethnic media, community leaders and social media, this was a major pitch for ethnic community support, going beyond the standard cash grants and local promises thrown around at election time. This was a substantial policy change with big implications for both ethnic communities and Australian immigration policy.

Family reunion is really difficult for parents of new migrants. Outside of receiving a skilled visa themselves, there are three main pathways for parents to join their children in Australia and they either involve constant disruption, outrageous costs or the patience (and health) to wait 25 years. ” … the lack of thinking and engagement behind the scenes means the policy vacuum is filled by knee-jerk responses to pressure points.”

The first pathway, and most common, is to visit on rolling 12-month tourist visas. The catch is you need to spend at least six months outside of Australia at the end of each visa. It is difficult to estimate how many tens of thousands of people are doing this to be with their family in Australia but the number is large and growing. Despite the constant travel, churn and disruption, this is often the only option available to people.

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.