By Ryan Emery - Doctor Siyat Abdi has joined a long line of migrants who’ve been rejected for a visa because they failed to meet the health criteria. In Kenyan-born Dr Abdi’s case, it’s because he’s blind.
For others, including Perth doctor Nora Aziz, it was because their children had cancer or Down Syndrome.
But according to the Migration Act, an applicant must not, even hypothetically, need health care or community service that would “result in a significant cost to the Australian community in the areas of health care and community services … regardless of whether the health care or community services will actually be used.”
Dr Abdi, who has been in Australia for more than 11 years, said it made him angry to be rejected because he was blind. It’s a condition he’s managed for all of his 47 years.
“I felt so bitter about it particularly noticing that the focus is on my disability and not my ability because I know I can do great things,” he said.
“I’ve been helping people, I’ve been doing a lot of things with the Australian community including migrants, including the mainstream Australian society.
“I’ve been feeling part of the Australian society and here I am: I'm told that I'm a burden to society. That really makes me so angry.”
Dr Abdi has two children born in Australia and several more in Kenya who he said he had been supporting without relying on government handouts.
He has been a university lecturer and tutor in South Australia and now is an advocate for ethnic people with disabilities in Perth.
He said the law dehumanised him.
“A professional person is still being discriminated in this century,” he said.
“It’s the 21st Century and I’m still being discriminated against in a developed country.”
Dr Abdi had been given 28 days to leave the country.
He said he planned to appeal the decision, but knew it would fail because the law was clear. He hoped the minister would intervene after the appeals process.
President of the National Ethnic Disability Alliance Suresh Rajan said it was time the Migration Act was changed and looked at the net benefit to Australia of migrants with disabilities.
“So he’s (Dr Abdi) someone who’s dealing in that space where we are trying to socialise and integrate people into the community, “ he said.
“So there are benefits there that can be quantified and what we really should be doing in cases like this are looking at a net benefit approach.
“In Siyat’s case it would be a simple case of stacking up what the benefits are to the country, what he has contributed to the society over the last x number of years and what he has done here and compare that to the cost.”
Mr Rajan said the Act was also in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Australia is a signatory.
“It’s not a good look externally,” he said.
“What it does is puttting us in the same league as a whole lot of nations that don’t have compliance with the convention or who have not signed the convention, and we consider most of those nations with a considerable amount of derision and therefore we would be in the same category as them.”
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was on a joint parliamentary inquiry that made recommendations to change the Migration Act in 2009, but said that very little had changed.
“Why governments haven’t acted on this is beyond me,” she said.
“Is it because they don’t want to have another immigration debate? Are they uncomfortable with the idea that this is a restriction that we currently have?
“It seems to me that in 2015 when we have an amazing community respect for enabling people with disabilities, when we have an NDIS that’s funded by all Australians then why wouldn’t we lift these ridiculous restrictions and allow people to settle here?”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton would not comment on changing the Act, but his department said the cost threshold had been raised from $21,000 to $40,000 in line with one of the inquiry’s recommendations.
A department spokesperson said there were some visa subclasses that included a health waiver, but as the Act stood, a Commonwealth Medical Officer had to take into account the health care costs and community services “likely to be required”.
“There is no capacity for a MOC to consider a particular family’s individual circumstances, such as their financial circumstances or whether they choose to incur certain health care costs, or use community services,” the spokesperson said.
The Immigration Minister can grant a visa on a case-by-case basis, but only after an applicant has been through the costly application and appeals process.
Senator Hanson-Young said she would consider a private member’s bill to amend the legislation.