This essay highlights operations of the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS) as an organisation that provides services to immigrants. It focuses on how the IAAAS is funded and its current issues, refugees’ issues, impacts of the current fiscal policies on its operations and public opinion. Broadly, it highlights how debates on social policies and welfare affect IAAAS, as well as Australia’s commitment to human rights.
IAAAS is a scheme that offers “free, professional migration advice and visa application assistance to people who have arrived lawfully in Australia and who meet specific eligibility criteria with respect to disadvantage” (Department of Immigration and Border Protection 2014). Individuals must be disadvantaged in specific ways that meet IAAAS criteria in addition to financially challenges in order to qualify for assistance under the scheme. There are Registered Migration Agents that work with the IAAAS to assist migrants with difficult issues, application and submission of visa documents, coordinate with the scheme and inform applicants about the outcomes of their applications.
How IAAAS is funded
The Australian federal government has been solely responsible for funding legal advice to asylum seekers under the IAAAS (Benson 2013). The IAAAS funds cater for professional advice and application help provided to migrants by agents and lawyers. The funds also assist people who seek for protection in the country.
The current model of the Scheme offers funding to migration service providers and Australian lawyers that render their service to asylum seekers. Such services and applications allow asylum seekers to prepare adequately for their protection and refugee claim statuses. In this regard, asylum seekers need to comprehend the required legal processes based on their statuses and claims and ensure that they provided their right details in the right application forms.
The current model of the Scheme does not support any claims related to legal services that seek to challenge any unfavourable decisions in courts. Instead, it offers an opportunity for qualified service providers to evaluate protection claims. This approach allows lawyers and agents to withdraw unsubstantiated claims at an early stage and ensure that failed asylum seekers are returned immediately. Therefore, the funding has been instrumental in assisting vulnerable asylum seekers to get professional advice and navigate the complex Australian legal processes.
Issues faced by immigrants and the need for immigration advice
Australian immigrants (legal or illegal) face several challenges, which may necessitate legal advice. Generally, immigrants have limited rights and permissions to engage in specific activities. For instance, immigrants who wish to stay in Australia longer than initially intended require permission to do so. This, however, is not a simple process for such immigrants. In addition, immigrants may not engage in certain activities, such as seeking for employment before they get passport and approval. The inability to work is one major challenge that affects many immigrants. The entry document or visa may limit immigrants’ activities to specific areas or activities. Employers may also fail to recognise certain qualifications of immigrants and therefore, their rate of unemployment is usually higher than the national average.
Another challenge relates to constant threats of deportation by Australian authorities, particularly among illegal immigrants or individuals whose documents have expired. Immigrants who come with their families have additional challenges. In some instances, immigrants are held at detention centres or at the airport by the Australian authority. Authorities may have preconceived notions that immigrants could be engaged in some forms of illegal activities and therefore, they are held at the airport for several hours or days for verification purposes. In such circumstances, immigrants require services of an immigrant lawyer to guide them.
Even individuals with legal documents could face racial discrimination, prejudice and hate in the host country (Asia Pacific Migration Research Network 2003). While immigrants have various distinct characteristics on an individual basis, hate groups tend to consider them as criminals or people who want to take their jobs. Hate groups demand absolute compliance with the law among immigrants. In addition, their actions and threats to attack could be extremely dangerous to lives of asylum seekers.
Immigrants have psychological challenges because of anxiety regarding their statuses, application outcomes and potential detention or deportation. Moreover, immigrants’ vulnerability and poor statuses expose them to social implications. They may experience language barriers and related support systems.
Alongside other social and economic, immigrants need legal aid due to complexities in legal languages and documents. In addition, Scheme agents and lawyers provide advice on potential outcomes of their applications and eliminate the need to offer services for unsubstantiated claims.
Impacts of the current fiscal environment, Budget and Commission Audit on the scheme
The Coalition Government of Australia embarked on budget reviews through its Commissions of Audit to reduce waste, debt and deficit (Hurst 2014). There were strong compelling reasons to review and recommend budget cut in Australia. The Coalition aimed to define and promote its policy agendas and focus. However, the fiscal environment of Australia could force the government to adopt unfavourable policies to the most vulnerable asylum seekers who require legal aid and other forms of support. From the audit report, the Commissions of Audit noted that Australia’s current fiscal state is “good” but deteriorating and stressed the need to impose conditions to safeguard public services” (Hurst 2014). This statement has a significant impact on activities of the IAAAS.
Many critics have referred to the Commissions of Audit as the ‘commission of cuts’ (Hurst 2014). Such individuals have recognised that actions of the government on budget cut would affect vulnerable community members, which include asylum seekers and immigrants. Although the audit team insists that its actions and recommendations were guided by, “the importance of fairness” and the need for Australia to work together, many critics do not support the Coalition’s decision to dump the IAAAS funding. In its review and scope of the work, the team embarked on finding “saving opportunities, recommending asset sales and reducing duplication between different levels of government” (Weight 2014). One alternative was to stop funding aid for asylum seekers. The Coalition aimed to save $100 million over the next four years (Laughland 2014; Benson 2013).
The government and the public recognise that budget reviews and spending cut are effective approaches of defining, shaping and focusing on important public matters. Such actions, however, pose serious risks to vulnerable members of the society, as well as the government that adopt them. This is often the case when the Commissions of Audit made recommendations that were controversial, legally and politically sensitive in the case of IAAAS funding and other reductions in the budget (Weight 2014; Law Council of Australia 2014).
Impacts of public opinion on IAAAS and its funding
Many organisations and individuals have criticised the government on its decision to stop funding IAAAS. For instance, the Law Council of Australia has condemned and regretted the Australian Government’s decision to cease funding the IAAAS (Law Council of Australia, 2014).
According to the Council, the provision of legal advice and aid through registered agents and migrant lawyers is an effectual and reliable means of processing legal claims of asylum seekers in Australia. Such services have ensured that immigrants understand various issues related to Australian legal processes based on their claims and use the right forms for their applications. A lack of the funding aid implies that most asylum seekers will have to process their own claims without any aid from professionals and take longer at the detention centres (Griffiths 2014). The Council has asserted that it is the Australian Government failure to provide basic needs for vulnerable people in society.
From the Coalition’s perspective, eliminating the IAAAS funding will result in saving of $100 million over the next four years (Benson 2013), but the Law Council of Australia believes otherwise. The Coalition is also likely to force many organisations to bear expenses incurred by the Department of Immigration through referral services (Benson 2013).
The Council claims that a lack of legal aid to asylum seekers could create several challenges to the community. For instance, there would be serious delays in processing legal claims, which are associated with economic and social burdens at the detention centres. In addition, many asylum seekers’ claims will be unfairly dismissed and their cases could end up in the courts at significantly greater costs in the end (Law Council of Australia, 2014).
According to the Coalition Government, the removal of the IAAAS funding would eradicate ‘open tab’ for many immigrants who arrive by boats. Many human rights groups and refugee agencies consider such decisions as unnecessary since they affect all immigrants, including individuals who fly to Australia. On the other hand, the government has maintained that such individuals have chosen to violate laws of refugee and humanitarian program and therefore they should not expect any support and aid accorded to individuals who use legal means.
The Law Council of Australia has urged the Coalition to reconsider its decision to remove the IAAAS funding and reinstate it.
Ideas and values that underpin debates about social policy and welfare
Generally, social values, such as “equality, fairness, need, inclusion and citizenship provide the key to understanding social policy” (Wendon 2003). Scholars, however, have noted that it is critical to concentrate on political values, such as conservatism, liberalism, radicalism and feminism, which shape social policies and welfare (Mendes 2008; Wendon 2003). This could explain the Coalition Government’s approach to IAAAS funding and the issue of asylum seekers.
Therefore, it is imperative to understand the aim of the current government in order to comprehend fundamental elements that define its approach to social policies and welfare in Australia. This implies that values and ideas, including institutions and means, that define social policies and welfare in Australia are prone to changes based on the political ideologies of the existing government. Institutions, therefore, do not define social policies and welfare. Instead, values and ideals that a government aims to achieve influence social policies and welfare programmes. In other words, “social policy is basically about choices between conflicting political objectives and goals and how they are formulated” (Wendon 2003).
Such observations have led some scholars to criticise the neo-liberal or economic realists ideologies of Australia Government when handling social policies and welfare programmes (Mendes 2008). Instead, Mendes believes that Australia should adopt social-democratic and welfare state ideals (Mendes 2008).
The impact of Australia’s commitment to human rights
The Australian immigration minister has stated that the decision to stop IAAAS funding for asylum seekers did not contravene any human rights and obligation under the international law (Laughland 2014). The government would still provide services related to “basic written instructions in multiple languages on the visa applications and assessment rules, and access to interpreters, consistent with the United Nations Human Commission on Refugees” (Laughland 2014). The most vulnerable, including unaccompanied children will get limited aid, but without further costs on taxpayers.
On the contrary, some critics, including the Catholic Church believe that the Coalition’s decision to stop IAAAS funding was a violation of human rights (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 2014). Consequently, many stakeholders have urged the government to reinstate the IAAAS funding (Law Council of Australia 2014).
Such institutions and organisations believe that the Coalition has violated human rights by demonstrating contempt for basic human rights despite the increasing number of genuine asylum seekers who face humanitarian crises from wars. Critics of the Coalition Government’s decision assert that Australia has an obligation to safeguard human rights, particularly in life-or-death matters involving individuals whose safety is at risk (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 2014). Thus, the Coalition’s decision could be disastrous with deadly consequences for people who have endured horrific crimes of wars. Overall, the government has failed to uphold the Refugee Convention that requires it to ensure a cohesive and coherent support to war victims through various difficult processes, which could involve asylum claims.
Asia Pacific Migration Research Network 2003, Migration Issues in the Asia Pacific. Web.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 2014, ‘Catholic Church calls on Government to reinstate immigration assistance scheme‘, Christian Today Australia. Web.
Benson, S 2013, ‘Coalition pledges to stop funding public funding of asylum seeker claims‘, The Daily Telegraph. Web.
Department of Immigration and Border Protection 2014, Fact Sheet 63 – Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme. Web.
Griffiths, E 2014, Free immigration advice service for asylum seekers dumped by Federal Government. Web.
Hurst, D 2014, ‘Australia’s budget is deteriorating, says commission of audit head‘, The Guardian. Web.
Laughland, O 2014, Legal aid denied to asylum seekers who arrive through unauthorised channels‘, The Guardian. Web.
Law Council of Australia 2014, Law Council concerned by removal of IAAAS Funding. Web.
Mendes, P 2008, Australia’s Welfare Wars Revisited: The Players, the Politics and the Ideologies, UNSW Press, Australia. Web.
Weight, D 2014, Budget reviews and Commissions of Audit in Australia. Web.
Wendon, B 2003, The roles of EU social policy: social values, rhetoric and politics. Web.