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Tuesday, 19 February 2019 18:58

The Critical Importance of Public Advocacy

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Great triumph of public advocacy!


On 29 June 2018 the ACT Government closed its permanent visa program to people living in Canberra who did not have one of a limited number of occupations on the ACT Occupations List.

The closure of the program was made without consultation or prior notice and retrospectively damaged the legitimate expectations of thousands of international students drawn into Canberra under the then nomination policy of the ACT Government.

The outrage felt by students affected by the decision was immediate.

Advocacy response

VisAustralia immediately stepped up to the plate creating a Petition that quickly reached 2,500 signatures. We then facilitated a Public Meeting at the Labor Club in Canberra to allow international student organisations, our own clients, and other students affected by the closure, to discuss the closure of the program and to formulate a plan of action.

Following the Public Meeting VisAustralia arranged meetings with the Office of the Chief Minister, and following that, worked with international students to organise a public protest. The protest was held on Friday 31 August 2018, being a particularly wet and cold day, outside the ACT Legislative Assembly and was attended by over 200 people.

To complete our advocacy, we requested a Legal Opinion from experienced Canberra Barrister and Adjunct Professor of Law at Canberra University, Mr. Allan Anforth. The Legal Opinion addressed the question of the potential ACT Government liability over the management of the program.

Mr. Anforth has now advised that international students who fall within the above class have “good prospects” of success in litigation against the ACT Government in both tort and consumer law.

“Good prospects” in this context means a “better than 50% chance of winning the case”.

VisAustralia was able to liaise with the media to ensure good coverage of the protest and the threatened law suit, and we kept the community of international students informed through our blog and up-dates to the Petition.

What were the results?

Re-opening of the ACT Migration Program

On 29 November 2018 the ACT Government re-opened its Migration Program under its new “ACT Matrix” policy guidelines.

On the same day an article appeared in the Canberra Times reporting that the Minister for Immigration had allocated an additional 600 places to the ACT Government on top of its annual allocation of 800 places.

The renewed hope of international students in Canberra being nominated by the ACT Government for the Subclass 190 visa arises from the 600 additional places given to the ACT Government by the Minister for Immigration. The remarkable increase in places means that many more people are able to apply under the Matrix than first expected. It also partially, but not completely, solves the problem created by the sudden closure of the ACT Migration Program on 29 June 2018.

Where did the increase in quote numbers come from?

Increase in numbers

In 2017 we understand the ACT Government requested the Minister for Immigration to allocate additional places to its program. The Minister obliged by allocating an additional 50 additional places, taking the ACT quota from 750 to 800 places.While the additional 50 places were helpful it still meant that many students drawn into Canberra by the link between migration and education could not apply.

In 2018 we understand the ACT Government again requested the Minister for Immigration to allocate increased places to its migration program. This time it was given 600 additional places, an increase of over 1,000% from the 50 additional places allocated the year before.

What was the difference between the allocation of 50 additional places and 600 additional places?

Great Reward for speaking up!

The increase from 50 additional places to 600 places is a direct result of VisAustralia working with international students to arrange meetings with the ACT Government, to organise a well-attended protest outside the ACT Legislative Council, and to threaten to sue the ACT Government for mismanagement of its program.

At the protest we called upon the ACT Government to allow international students enrolled in the ACT on the day of the program closure to apply for ACT nomination. We also called on the Minister for Immigration to allocate an additional 1,500 visa places to the ACT Government to allow it to meet its obligations to these students.

This is a great triumph for all of those who pushed hard for a better deal for international students in Canberra. It reflects the genuine value in speaking up and speaking out about important issues and underlines the need for public advocacy.

While many migration agents and lawyers do a very credible job in working with clients, this is not the work that secured the increase in the number of places. Further, while many agents are members of professional associations like the Migration Institute of Australia, it was not the work of the professional associations that secured the outcome.

The professional associations, agents, and lawyers, who remained silent when it became necessary to speak up should perhaps consider whether and how they can better represent their visa clients in a changing and politicised migration context.

At VisAustralia the job of providing accurate legal advice and assisting clients make successful visa application is part of our role, and quite frankly, the most important part. But it is not the only part of our work. The other part is to advocate in relation to the needs and vulnerabilities of our clients and the collective cohort of people seeking to migrate to Australia.

Need for a visa-users lobby group

VisAustralia can see the need for the establishment of a formal visa users lobby group. This would be an organisation for users of the visa system, being people seeking to apply to migrate to Australia and their Australian family members, that would advocate on behalf of visa applicants.

This advocacy would not be directed at the substance of the law, as it is the prerogative of the Australian Government to determine the content of the Australian migration program, but at the processes mandated for applying for a visa and the essential fairness or lack thereof in visa processing and the process of policy change.

VisAustralia would support the establishment of such a group.

Our advice: Express an interest now

Notwithstanding the uncertainties, VisAustralia advises that intending applicants should express an interest in applying for ACT nomination as soon as they meet the published criteria. There is no cost associated with lodging an expression of interest and you can do this yourself.

Your application will be in the system for 6 months, and if your circumstances change you will need to lodge a new expression of interest reflecting your new circumstances.

Immigration advice and assistance

For further information about the ACT Matrix and your prospects of receiving an invitation to apply, and for advice and support in preparing your ACT nomination and Subclass 190 visa application, please call our office on 02 6247 7577 or send an email to:

VisAustralia is committed to working hard to assist our clients, negotiate the application process and apply for permanent residence in Australia.




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