We Need Skilled Migrant Women Working not Waiting on Bridging Visas
With the jobs shortage hitting Australia hard and the huge backlog of visa applications putting a strain on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), it is frustrating for those on bridging visas who are told they can't work.
A bridging visa is a temporary visa that allows a person to stay in Australia until their substantive visa application is finally determined. Whether an applicant can still work or has working limitations depends on their circumstances.
This can have devastating effects on families and, in particular, women. No longer receiving childcare support or student allowances, plus having to pay higher student fees that are set at international rates instead of what is charged to Australian citizens, stops migrant women from progressing in their profession and upskilling.
Independent MP Monique Ryan, who is trying to get the government to improve work rights for people on bridging visas in Australia, said there were "no consistent or clear rules regarding working rights for people on bridging visas."
Currently, about 367,000 people are living in Australia on bridging visas, up from 180,000 in June 2019.
Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Mr Andrew Giles, said he is determined to improve visa processing times. "There will be a role from time to time for people on bridging visas to regularise their status. But that is a huge problem that has blown out under the former government and something that I'm determined to address."
In a media release, he stated, "The processing of visas will continue to be a major priority for this Government – but reducing the backlog of applications can't happen overnight … The former Government devalued immigration, with the visa application backlog increasing to nearly 1,000,000 on their watch. The Albanese Government is determined to reduce the backlog and restore the importance of the immigration function of our Government."
But change needs to happen now. Sobia Shah, who set up the Professional Migrant Women's Network to help support affected women, highlighted the effects on mental health. "In our own country, we have identity … but here we are nothing," she said.
In his speech at the National Jobs and Skills Summit, Mr Giles said, "Since I became Minister, I have heard hundreds of stories of people waiting for their visa application to be progressed. Partners separated, not knowing when they would see each other again. Businesses unable to plan an investment decision because they don't know when their applications will be finalised. This is not good enough, and reflects a visa system that has been in crisis." He then went on to explain that the Albanese Government is investing. "We will invest 36.1 million dollars in visa processing, to surge staff capacity by 500 people for the next nine months."
But as Dr Hartley, a supporter of the Professional Migrant Women's Network and co-director of the Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University in Perth, said, "A really simple solution would be to enable them (migrant women on bridging visas) to have the right to work … (Let them) actually contribute to the Australian economy because they're effectively sitting there and not able to even access social security supports or work."