Members of the Anti-Slavery Project have welcomed the Australian Government’s announcement of major reforms to visas that are available for victims of trafficking and slavery.
Victims of trafficking and their families will now have more stability and certainty in their lives and better access to social support according to Associate Professor Jennifer Burn, Director of the University of Technology, Sydney’s Anti Slavery Project.
Associate Professor Jennifer Burn
She said the new visa framework was a major step forward from measures taken in 2004, where victim support and visa protection were tied to a person’s willingness and ability to assist in law enforcement investigations and criminal prosecutions.
“We have seen how uncertainty about immigration status adds to the emotional trauma experienced by people who have been exploited and alienated in Australia,” Professor Burn said.
“A key change included in the reforms is that all people identified as being a suspected victim of people trafficking by law enforcement will receive victim support for 45 days, regardless of their agreement to participate in the criminal justice system or their immigration status. People who are unlawful will be entitled to a Bridging Visa for 45 days. Some victims of trafficking may be entitled to a further 45 days of victim support and a further Bridging Visa F depending on their individual circumstances.
“This amendment is in accordance with international best practice and gives trafficked people time to reflect about their situation, get social support and legal advice so that they can make an informed decision about assisting the police and prosecutors in a criminal investigation.”
“The Anti-Slavery Project has consistently argued that early stage victim support should be delinked from participation in the criminal justice system and the amendment announced today achieves this reform. Any person suspected of being trafficked will now be entitled to victim support for a period of 45 days regardless of whether they participate in the criminal justice system.”
The Anti-Slavery Project is a member of the National Roundtable on People Trafficking, established in 2008, with which the Australian Government as collaborated in bringing about the reforms.
Professor Burn said the Witness Protection (Trafficking) (Temporary) visa would now be abolished and replaced by the early grant of a Witness Protection (Trafficking) (Permanent) visa for people who have made a ‘contribution’ to the criminal justice process. “This visa will be available early in the criminal justice process and will allow victims and their immediate family, whether inside or outside Australia, to get a visa,” she said.
“These amendments will make an enormous difference to our clients. Additionally, a system of complementary protection will be introduced later in the year to provide protection to people who are not eligible for the new visa, or a refugee visa, but would face inhumane or degrading treatment on their return to their country of origin.”
Professor Burn said visa reforms would allow at least 20 victims of trafficking and/or slavery in Australia to transition to a permanent visa, giving them the confidence and certainty to move on with their lives. “Further reform is needed to best protect the human rights of people in this situation,” she said.
“The Anti-Slavery Project recently made a submission to the National Consultation on Human Rights recommending that an Australian Human Rights Act be introduced. This would protect human rights of everyone in Australia’s jurisdiction, regardless of their immigration status.
“Another of our recommendations was to increase human rights education to raise awareness of important human rights issues like forced labour, trafficking, and the rights of migrant workers. Rights-based education should focus on engaging people who have little or no access to information about their rights and how to exercise those rights.”