The Australian Senate’s due to vote on controversial new migration laws on Tuesday, that could see more New Zealanders deported under the existing 501 policy.
If passed, the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill will provide new grounds for a visa to be cancelled, if a non-citizen has been convicted of certain serious crimes.
Currently visas can be revoked on character grounds if someone is sentenced to 12 months or more imprisonment, or convicted of sexual crimes involving a child.
The changes being debated on Tuesday would mean that if someone is convicted of a serious crime (involving violence or use of weapons) and it’s potentially punishable of two years or more in prison, the visa is automatically up for cancellation.
Speaking earlier this year, Australia’s Immigration Minister leveraged the recent scandal around Novak Djokovic, saying: “It should not be easier to deport an international sports star than a convicted criminal".
“That’s why this Bill broadens existing discretionary powers to cancel and refuse visas under the 'character test'.”
Immigration experts warn 501 numbers could increase "five-fold"
While the Australian government’s confident it’ll be able to pass the legislation ahead of the upcoming federal election, immigration experts are warning it could cause tensions with New Zealand.
Dr Abul Rizvi, former Deputy Secretary of Australia’s Department of Immigration told 1News that the changes are unlikely to go down well.
“New Zealand politicians have been complaining about this for a long time.
“It seems to be top of the agenda when there’s a bilateral discussion between the two countries.”
Rizvi said because of the sheer number of New Zealanders in Australia, they’re set to be hit the hardest by the law change.
He said it’d be possible to see the number of those failing the character test increase five-fold.
According to Australia's Department of Home Affairs, 402 New Zealanders had their visa cancelled in the 2020-21 year on character grounds.
“I think the government has not thought of that very hard, and it should,” said Rizvi.
“Our relationship with New Zealand is very very important, but it seems to me our government is saying we’re bigger than you so we’ll push you around.”
Rizvi also said the timing was ironic, given New Zealand has just opened the doors to 150 asylum seekers from Australia annually.