Labor’s parent visa plan risks grey migrant flow

Chinese migrants, Min Zhu, 37, and his wife June, 35, with their daughter Olivia, 4, in the Sydney suburb of Eastwood yesterday. Picture: Hollie Adams

Labor’s pledge to introduce an uncapped long-stay parents’ visa could open the door to a wave of elderly migrants, as nearly 100,000 applicants for hard-to-obtain permanent parents’ visas seek to reunite with adult children in Australia.

In a pitch for the migrant vote in key marginal seats, Labor has revealed its proposed three- and five-year sponsored parents’ visas would cost $1250 and $2500 per entrant — a quarter of the cost of the Coalition’s parents’ visas — and would be available to an unlimited number of applicants.

Labor would also allow a single household to sponsor up to four parents at a time — compared with two under the Coalition — and enable visa-holders to renew their visa in Australia for a second three- or five-year term.

Demographers warned that the backlog of 97,000 applicants for permanent parents’ visas could be expected to apply under Labor’s policy, unleashing a 1980s-level surge in migration that would place additional strain on cities and services.

The Coalition’s parents’ visa, due to start on July 1, would be restricted to 15,000 people, cost $5000 for three years and $10,000 for five, and require holders to go overseas for a renewal.

Labor has campaigned hard in Sydney seats such as Reid, Banks and Bennelong, and Chisholm in Melbourne — all of which elected Liberal MPs in 2016 and have high proportions of overseas-born voters — over the government’s delay in delivering a long-stay parents’ visa promised before the last election.

Bill Shorten in a campaign ad promoting the new visa.

Immigration Minister David Coleman, whose seat of Banks is one of Australia’s most multi- ultural, said Labor’s uncapped visa proposal showed “a complete lack of regard for sensible immigration and population planning”.

“Under Labor’s new visa, there is absolutely no limit to the number of people who can enter the country for up to 10 years,” Mr Coleman said.

“This is no way to run a sensible immigration program, or population policy. These programs are carefully managed to ensure that the number of visas granted are sustainable for the Australian economy and population growth.”

Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen, about half of whose constituents in his Sydney seat of McMahon speak a language other than English, said the new visa was a fair, compassionate way to help migrants reunite with elderly parents.

“Many elderly parents want to reunite with their families but have to travel to Australia as tourists — proving costly, frustrating, disruptive and exhausting as they ferry between countries,” he said. Mr Bowen said Labor’s pledge was in stark contrast to the Coalition’s “heartless, callous and cruel” policy that would force families to choose which parents they sponsored.

Under Labor’s and the Coalition’s policies, applicants would have to obtain health insurance and any debts they incurred during their stay would have to be guaranteed by sponsors.

Demographer Bob Birrell said the uncapped nature of Labor’s policy could drive up demand for hospital beds and doctors. “It is highly likely that demand for particularly health services will grow because of the high incidence of health problems for older people,” he said.

“The question then becomes — if these parents do pay for these services, are they going to out-compete locals seeking the same service?”

Min Zhu, a Sydney property analyst who lives in Eastwood, in the seat of Bennelong, paid more than $30,000 for his parents’ visas when they moved to Australia. He thinks Mr Shorten’s promise of a $2500 visa is not balanced. “If it’s so much cheaper there will be a lot of people moving over, and the elderly people need to use our facilities and it affects our budget — we need to think about the economy as well,” Mr Zhu said. “A lot of elderly parents can’t speak the language
as well and that makes it difficult for them to live here.”

Unveiling his own pitch for the migrant vote, Scott Morrison yesterday announced a $5 million commitment to a “self-starter accelerator program” to help overseas-born Australians get new businesses off the ground.

The Coalition would also spend an extra $10m to help migrant communities supporting culturally diverse and linguistically diverse communities navigate the aged care system, he said.

Bill Shorten sought to engage with Chinese voters earlier in the campaign in a live WeChat social media appearance, in which he distanced himself from former NSW Labor leader Michael Daley’s anti-Asian comments that helped sink the party’s state election chances last month.

Mr Morrison also used WeChat to talk about the Coalition’s support for a “diverse and harmonious society”.