ASHM ADVOCACY REPORT.
The AO attended the HIV Immigration and Legal Satellite which offered an insight into difficulties faced by PLHIV in the Australian immigration process. The session included a panel of esteemed speakers including Associate Professor Heather Worth (Head of International HIV Research Group UNSW), Indraveer Chatterjee (Principal Solicitor for the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre), Richard Johnson (Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship) and Brianna Harrison (UNAIDS).
The panel brought a variety of experience and opinion regarding the Commonwealths ‘health criteria’. The Commonwealth (Australian Government) imposes this health criterion on almost all temporary and permanent visas.
The rationale for the health criteria was cited as being imposed when applicants have a condition:
- That is a threat to public health;
- Which will cause ‘significant cost’ to the Australian Government; and
- Which will prejudice the access of any Australian citizen to health or community services.
A medical officer of the Commonwealth completes a costing and ultimately provides a dollar figure estimate of how much the condition will cost the Commonwealth. Migration guidelines stipulate that any condition above $40,000.00 will be considered a ‘significant cost’ and denied a visa. An applicant with HIV will generally be costed well over the very constricting amount of $40,000.00.
However, an applicant who has been found to be a ‘significant cost’ is able to apply for a ‘health waiver’. This process means that an applicant that has been deemed a ‘significant cost’ must prove that they are not an ‘undue cost’ to the Commonwealth. Some of the factors in successfully arguing an applicant is not an undue cost include:
- Economic benefit (in relation to skills that are currently in demand by the Commonwealth);
- Ties to Australia (partner, children etc); and
- Humanitarian considerations (Access to treatment, stigma and discrimination).
One of the interesting points of discussion by the panel was the effectiveness of the health waiver process in ensuring fundamental human rights. The representative from the Immigration Department justified the imposition of the health criteria through:
- Reducing economic burden on the health system; and
- The Commonwealths unfettered right to territorial sovereignty in imposing restrictions on the entry of persons.
These justifications were brought into question by the panel. In particular, Ms Harrison (UNAIDS) pointed to a wider global vision in that imposing travel restrictions are actually contrary to public health and stigmatise PLHIV.
The Commonwealths commitment to human rights is at odds with the ‘health requirement’ and its economic rationale. Human rights doctrines dictate that individuals should have equal access to freedom of movement within countries, the right to non-discrimination on grounds of health status and the right to adequate healthcare. The majority of the panel agreed that these humanitarian concerns should always supersede economic considerations. In order for humanitarian outcomes to be guaranteed, the panel discussed the need for migration reform. Ultimately, any reform to the migration system needs to reflect these humanitarian concerns and would begin to establish a human-right based environment for the HIV response.
The debate is to be continued….so watch this space!
If you have any further questions regarding HIV and Immigration, please contact
Sharna (Advocacy Officer) on 07 3013 5555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.