9 April 2021
The Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) and Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) strongly oppose the Department of Home Affairs’ proposed imposition of an English language requirement, on both sponsors and applicants, for a partner visa.
The Department of Home Affairs suggest in their consultation that passing an English test will make partner visa applicants less vulnerable to family violence and other exploitation as they will be more easily able to access services for survivors of violence. The Department’s Consultation Paper suggests that ‘migrants who do not have sufficient English language skills may be more vulnerable to family violence and other exploitation’.
RACS & AWAVA in addition to a range of concerned organisations, have provided critical feedback via submission to the Department raising concern for families who could remain separated. RACS & AWAVA remain completely opposed to such paternalistic reforms that have failed to engage Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities – the very communities it impacts.
Hannah Gray, Senior Solicitor and Coordinator of RACS’ Women at Risk program, says “This language creates a false association between domestic and family violence and non-English speakers and makes the unsupported claim that the way to combat such violence is by making it more difficult for non-English speaking partners to obtain visas and be reunited with their families.”
“Tragically, domestic and family violence occurs across all cultures and language groups. So the suggestion that the problem is exacerbated by survivors lacking the ability to speak sufficient English to seek help is highly reductive” she says.
Prior to the joint submission, RACS consulted extensively with a range of specialist women’s services. ”All confirmed they are strongly opposed to the proposed reforms of an English language requirement. For these groups, the suggestion it was the lack of English of survivors of violence is seen as just another form of victim blaming” says Ms Gray.
“Domestic and family violence is a gendered crime. There is no evidence to suggest that English-language is a predictor of domestic, family or sexual violence victimisation. Women on temporary visas need to be supported to access essential services at the points of crisis, have access to affordable and safe housing and assistance with migration matters, not being blamed for the actions of their partners who choose to use violence.” says Ms Dixson, Acting Program Manager, at the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance.
The submission also raises concerns about the impact of family separation, highlighting the negative impacts RACS witnesses on people seeking asylum and refugees, including ongoing trauma, prolonged uncertainty, and the potential for heightened vulnerability of female refugees and migrants.
“The proposed introduction of an English language requirement for both applicants and sponsors for partner visas will lead to significant barriers and delays to family reunion, and in some cases completely prevent families from being reunited causing further hardship and harm” says Ms Gray.
“Further, it will exacerbate existing inequalities along the lines of wealth and privilege, discriminating against those with less opportunities available to them to learn English to the same level as others.”
“Family reunification is already extraordinarily difficult. This proposal is yet another hurdle adversely impacting the lives of refugees in Australia.”
For interview and comment contact Sarah Dale on 0419 200 637, or by email: [email protected]
The Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) is a strong, independent public voice for the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum. We provide critical free legal advice, assistance and representation, for financially disadvantaged and vulnerable people seeking asylum in Australia, and advocate for justice and dignity for refugees. RACS’ Family Reunion program supports refugees granted permanent residency seeking to reunite with their families after long periods of painful separation. RACS’ dedicated Women at Risk program, in conjunction with the Jesuit Refugee Service Finding Safety Program, supports women, or people who identify as female, seeking asylum, who have survived, or who fear sexual or gender based violence. For further information please contact RACS on (02) 8355 7227, or by email: [email protected].