The government recently released a discussion paper, “Community Support Program“, outlining options for private sponsorship of humanitarian migrants. This has been trialed over the last two years and there was sufficient demand in the community to indicate a permanent program of over 500 people per year.
I was surprised at this given the cost, approximately $30,000 for a family of five. Yet over 650 visas were granted from July 2013 to March 2015. Interesting, Syria and Iraq were the top two countries of origin, showing the program responds to current humanitarian crises.
Migrants can only be sponsored by Approved Proposing Organisations who have to:
- ensure the visa application charge (VAC), which is approximately $30,000 for a family of five ($19,124 for the primary application and $2,680 for each secondary applicant), is paid;
- provide the cost of airfares and medical checks;
- provide initial practical support to assist humanitarian entrants settle successfully; and
- provide services which are broadly similar to those currently provided to humanitarian entrants under the Humanitarian Settlement Services programme.
This is no small undertaking in both upfront costs and ongoing support.
However I have two main points of contention with this proposal.
The main criticism is the limitations placed on sponsorship. Organisations basically need to already be providing government funded support to become eligible to privately sponsor migrants. This automatically shrinks the potential of the program. Instead of something radical, this becomes a quaint addition to the humanitarian program.
I understand why the government create eligibility barriers. They don’t want to be on the hook for when dodgy private sponsors do not provide support. This is the standard, risk-averse position any government would take. But it also shows why this idea will not thrive until there is more willingness to fail. Private sponsorship has the potential to unlock tens of thousands of new placements for humanitarian migrants but only if a new community can be galvanised to sponsor them. Restricting sponsorship to well established settlement service providers cuts this option off at the very start of the journey.
Lastly, if there are going to be heavy restrictions, the visa fee should be reduced. $30,000 for a family of five stinks of ‘cost recovery’ from the government. This will keep program numbers artificially low and privilege certain communities over others.
If the government really believed in a system that tilted towards private sponsorship, they would either greatly expand the number of sponsorship options with a high upfront bond to dissuade cheating or lower the visa fee to encourage more private sponsorship funneled through a small number of select providers.
Personally, I think there is merit in exploring these ideas. Yes, the government might use private sponsorship to shirk greater responsibility. But the humanitarian program has hardly shifted in decades and it took the unhinging of our asylum policy to up the number. I can at least imagine a humanitarian program of 40-50,000 in two decades time where a substantial minority is provided by private sponsorship. And that would be a good thing.