Women on temporary visas face barriers to safety from family violence

­­Women on temporary visas face barriers to safety from family violence, according to a new template for reform that builds on evidence including Monash University research. The National Advocacy Group on Women on Temporary Visas Experiencing Violence recommends changes to current legislation to improve safety and access to justice for women on temporary visas who are experiencing family violence.

Monash University’s Associate Professor Marie Segrave was a part of the National Advocacy Group that produced the Blueprint for Reform: Removing Barriers to Safety for Victims/Survivors of Domestic and Family Violence who are on Temporary Visas (“the Blueprint”), published on 3 October, 2019.

The Blueprint addresses gaps in the federal government’s migration and family violence legislation that creates serious and well-evidenced risks of harm for victims and survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence who hold temporary visas.

The research comes in the wake of the release of the federal government’s Fourth National Action Plan, part of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, which was released on 9 August, 2019. The Fourth National Action Plan is silent on the matter of women with temporary migration status experiencing family violence. In particular, it doesn’t address how the migration system impacts this group of women, and can contribute to conditions of abuse and control.

Key findings of the Blueprint include:

  • Women on temporary visas experiencing family violence face difficulties in qualifying for social security rights, including legal, welfare and medical services.
  • These women are at risk of visa cancellation or visa refusal if they separate from a perpetrator or report the violence to police.
  • Women on temporary visas at risk of domestic, sexual and family violence experience compounded trauma and stress, due to significant processing delays on their protection or partner visa applications.
  • Online visa applications and communication make it easier for an abusive or controlling Australian partner to control their partner’s visa process, as couples have a shared Immi account.
  • Current family violence provisions, in Division 1.5 of the Federal Migration Regulations (1994), are available to a very narrow cohort of victims and survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence, and often exclude women with temporary migration status.
  • For the purposes of the family violence provisions, violence perpetrated by family members other than a sponsoring partner is not being recognised. This fails to recognise that living with extended family other than a sponsoring partner is the norm for certain cultural groups, and it’s often the partner’s family who are perpetrating violence against victims and survivors.
  • For people on various temporary visas, the migration system doesn’t provide a solution where there’s a child born in Australia, and the other parent (Australian resident or citizen) wants the child to live long-term in Australia.

“Australia continues to ignore the fact that migration status can impact how and whether women seek support and intervention when experiencing family violence,” Associate Professor Segrave said.

“Our complex migration system is failing victims of gendered violence, who are on temporary visas in Australia.

“In some circumstances, perpetrators have threatened to report their partners to immigration authorities and jeopardise their residency applications as a form of coercion and family violence.

“It is critical that we recognise and support all victims of domestic violence equally, regardless of migration status or any other point of difference.

“Australia needs to improve service delivery and support for victims of domestic violence, who have temporary migration status, and prioritise victims’ safety over visa status.”

The report recommends reforms to Australia’s national response to family violence for women who are temporary migrants, including:

  • amendments to the current family violence provisions
  • introducing a new temporary visa for victims and survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence
  • creating a permanent residency pathway where a family law court order regards children
  • recognising the stigma of domestic, family and sexual violence and separation for women on temporary visas, who are returning to their home country.

The Blueprint was developed and endorsed by Monash University’s Associate Professor Marie Segrave, together with the National Advocacy Group on Women on Temporary Visas Experiencing Violence, led by the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA), which comprises 50 state and national peak bodies, service providers and other organisations working to address violence against women across Australia.