Excerpts from Interview with Federal Immigration Minister
3ZZZ – Romanian Broadcasting Group
On 19 August 2000, the Romanian Broadcasting Group brought to air an interview obtained by Eugen Ionescu from Hon. Philip Ruddock, Minister for Immigration with the Australian Federal Government.
Excerpts of transcription by Iris Radulescu were broadcast in Romanian on 26 August on the Romanian programme as well.
Eugen Ionescu asked for definition of High Risk as a criterion applied to visitor applications from Romanian citizens. This is based on Department of Immigration statistics showing that only 40% of tourist visa applications are accepted, and from these, 50% carry the ‘clause 8503’ restriction (non-exensible).
Philip Ruddock:The “High Risk” category essentially is an objective test based on what we call “non-return” rates, where people come on the basis of a visa granted for a specific period of time and people are found not to have returned home at the end of that visa then that’s essentially a “non-return” rate.
There are a range of reasons why people don’t return home: [illness], applications to stay permanently in Australia when all they told us before hand was they were coming for a visit. [Other cases are refugee claims].
All we say is: look, if people don’t go home when they’re granted visas, that is a factor we take into account when we assess other people – are others going to do the same thing?
Eugen Ionescu: DIMA statistics do not appear to support the high risk rating.
The statistics simply show a large number of applications to extend visas, which is perfectly legal. The only exception is in the case of marriage applicants – so let us leave those aside for the moment.
Philip Ruddock: Our view – the previous government’s view as well – is that it is undesirable to have people coming to Australia as visitors and applying to stay permanently and we actually discourage people from doing just that. This is because [our] officers overseas are best placed to be able to make the enquiries in the shortest possible time that will satisfy us whether people meet the conditions [for migration].
Eugen Ionescu: This is agreed. Can we simply discuss the visitors who extend their visas by – say – 3 days. They go into the non-return statistics.
Philip Ruddock: What is wrong is that we expect people to obey the conditions of their visas. If a visa is granted for 3 months, we expect them to go back in 3 months. If they make an application, albeit on the basis of changed circumstances, it is important to know whether or not a higher proportion are more likely to make those claims in Australia if they come from one country rather than another. You start to doubt people’s intentions when you get information when the visa is granted and there is different information in Australia in order to claim an entitlement to stay on.
[Not Romanians specifically, but other communities] – there is evidence that when people come from a lower standard of living often there are breaches of other visa conditions. The non-return rates indicate that there are groups of people staying on lawfully and unlawfully in order to work.
Non return rates or examination of overstayers or marriage applications. Across the board, those figures are higher than the average figures. If the global non-return rate is 2.1% and the overstay rate is only 2.13% then the global overstay rate would be 0.5 higher – on all indicators, non-return and overstay, or onshore applications, Romanian figures are higher, and significantly higher, than most of the world and most other countries.
Eugen Ionescu: Although we find these statistics ridiculous, we are going to publicise the Government’s position being that : The maximum visitor visa being for 6 months, please apply for 6 months even if you intend to stay only 3 days.
If you apply for any sort of extension to your visitor’s visa, be it even for 3 days, then you go into the overstay statistics and it will be a “black point” and the risk factor is going to increase [for other visitors].
Philip Ruddock: If you can get in your broadcast the message across that compliance will make it easier for people to get visitor’s visas, you would do a great service to the community and it will help me. I don’t like tough scrutiny, but the other side of the coin is that I have a significant overstay problem. I have 50,000 people who overstay their visas.
If you consider people legally overstaying and non-return figures – if you add them together the number will be in excess of 55,000.
After discussion with Eugen Ionescu, Mr. Ruddock asserts that people who apply for visitor visa extensions are working illegally. This is based on the fact that 12,000 of the 55,000 are eventually located and most of them confess willingly that they had been working.
Eugene Ionescu points out that there is no evidence that Romanians [specifically] abuse their visa conditions, but merely extend their visas, which is perfectly legal. Although these are the facts, we are going to make public the position that they should not try to extend their visa unless there is some emergency.
Discussion about visitor’s visas [this is summarised from the taped interview]
Non-return rates and overstay rates are indicative only. Each case is judged on its merits. The indicators are used to build a “profile” – the profile of an overstayer in order to identify them before they become a problem.
If there is an indication that they fit this profile, then they should produce evidence to satisfy the decision maker that a genuine visit is intended.
If even with the all these checks and scrutiny in place, we still have a high overstay rate, that means that these are not sufficient to root out all the abuses.
“Overstay” is used deliberately. Two sets of figures are used to establish bona fides of an application. This is used as a risk factor only, and shows which persons to ask questions. Objective criteria are used for assessment.
Appeals to the decision are possible, and they are not as expensive as it is said.
Another method is in application since 1st July 2000: a bond put up by a reputable person in the community to stake their reputation on their belief that a bona fide visitor will return home. [This bond is apparently set at A$ 10,000.00 because this is what people appear to be willing to put up].
This is a departure from the official position coming from Belgrade that the sponsor is not even considered. According to the Minister, the mission in Belgrade has been directed to take this bond into consideration if they need additional arguments for their decision.
Eugen Ionescu explains the correlation between the impossible waiting periods imposed by overseas spouse applications being up to 14 months and the on-shore marriage applications caused by people circumventing these waiting periods by abusing tourist visas.
Philip Ruddock explains that there has been very significant fraud and misuse of marriage visas – without mentioning any specific country. As a result, the Government is unable to accept the [marriage] document at face value, and instituted tough bona fides tests including interviews. He would like to do it faster, increased resources were allocated, but it happens that the increased scrutiny requirement leads to longer processing periods.
The Government must be doing something right because since these tough measures were introduced, the number of applications fell meaning a significant number of people were using marriage as a migration basis.