Disability a 'burden' to Australian community, immigration rules

Bhajan Kaur's application for permanent residency has been refused because her disability would be a "burden".  Photo: Penny Stephens
Bhajan Kaur's application for permanent residency has been refused because her disability would be a "burden". Photo: Penny Stephens

Each morning Bhajan Kaur gets up, makes tea and pedals away on her exercise bike.

She sweeps the floor, dances to Bollywood music, and potters around the garden of her East Doncaster home. She shares it with her extended family, who she has lived with all her life.

Bhajan is a gentle person whose intellectual disability means she cannot live independently. Luckily, her family have the means to support her at home and she is physically well.

But they now face the very real prospect of a heartbreaking decision.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has refused Bhajan's application for permanent residency, saying her disability would make her a "significant health burden" to the Australian community.

And the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Alex Hawke, has declined her family's appeal to intervene.

So Bhajan will either have to return alone to her birthplace of Singapore, and go into an institution for the first time in her life, or, as is more likely, her family will be unwillingly broken up. Her brother will leave his wife and son (and job) in Australia to return with her to Singapore and an uncertain future.

Bhajan as a little girl PHOTO SUPPLIED by family for Miki Perkins THE AGE NEWS 1st December 2016

Bhajan as a little girl. 

The case again raises the issue of disability in migration. Under Australian law, the migration act is exempt from the disability discrimination act.

The immigration department says this policy is not discriminatory towards disabled people as all applicants must cost the taxpayer less than $40,000 in health care.

Suresh Rajan, the president of the National Ethnic Disability Alliance, said he had dealt with about 25 cases of this nature in the past two years.

Bhajan's entire family moved to Melbourne from Singapore in 2008, on a combination of skilled migration and tourist visas.

Jasvinder Kaur, Bhajan's sister-in-law, is a teacher in a Victorian school. Bhajan's brother (who can't be named for professional reasons) is a solicitor.​

They and their son, Balram, 18, are now Australian citizens. Bhajan's elderly mother, Gurtev Kaur, 77 - who has cared for her daughter all her life - has permanent residency.

When they applied for Bhajan's permanent residency, they were told she would need to be assessed by a government-appointed medical insurer.

"We took her to someone who understood Punjabi but he didn't even speak to her, he just noted she was 'moderately disabled'," says Jasvinder Kaur.

The medical insurer advised Bhajan would be a "cost to the community", and this formed the basis for the department's decision not to grant her a visa.

But her family says it will willingly absorb any medical costs Bhajan might have in her lifetime.

The matter was appealed to the Migrant Review Tribunal, which upheld the department's decision but referred it on to the immigration minister's office (in this case to Alex Hawke), who has personal discretion.

"The tribunal is of the view that the circumstances of the applicant and her family give rise to both compelling and compassionate reasons to substitute a more favourable decision," tribunal member Gary Ledson said in his ruling.

Mr Ledson noted the applicant had lived all her life with her supportive family and had never been a burden to authorities in Singapore or Australia.

He said her relatives contributed significantly to the Australian economy and community, and requiring Bhajan to return to Singapore would fragment a "very close knit and supportive family".

Bhajan's 11 year-old niece Diya wrote a letter to Mr Hawke pleading her aunt's case:

"I know you are not a mean person, in fact, I am sure of it.

But what I don't understand is why are you sending my auntie to another country if you are not mean? Why are you splitting up my family so that I can hardly see my uncle who you have forced to move out of the country with my auntie because of her low IQ levels? I cannot see the answer. So unless the answer is quite obvious, please don't split up my family!"

Jasvinder Kaur says she is deeply distressed at the prospect of Bhajan returning to Singapore and the family being split apart.

"None of these people actually spoke to her," says Jasvinder.  "I'm just terrified and scared now. If you're going to meddle in someone's life, at least have the decency to spend 10 minutes with her."

A spokesman for the department said it could confirm that Assistant Minister Alex Hawke had personally considered this case and decided not to intervene.

People whose requests for intervention have been unsuccessful were expected to depart Australia, the spokesperson said.

On a visit to Australia this month, Francois Crepeau, the United Nation's Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, criticised Australia's approach and said family members with disabilities should not be systematically considered as having health risks that would prevent them from settling in Australia.

Jasvinder says her family have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into life in Australia during the past eight years.

Bhajan's nephew Balram, 18, went to Gallipoli as part of a Victorian group last year, and collaborated with the local RSL in an ANZAC exhibition which involved the whole school community.

Miki Perkins is on Facebook and Twitter

This story Disability a 'burden' to Australian community, immigration rules first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.