Canberra takes early strike at religious visa cheats
Annabel Stafford, Sydney
January 23, 2008
THE Federal Government has struck a deal with the Catholic Church in Sydney to discourage people from using this year's Catholic World Youth Day to become illegal immigrants.
Under a memorandum of understanding signed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese, so-called pilgrims to the July event will not have to pay a visa application fee in return for presenting a letter of endorsement from their local bishop.
Bishops will be asked to confirm that the person applying for a visa is a well-known and active member of their local Catholic Church in an apparent attempt to weed out anyone posing as a Catholic to gain entry to Australia.
Bishops will also be asked to vouch that the applicant is “aware of the importance of complying with the conditions of the visa” including the requirement to leave Australia on its expiry, a spokesman for the department said.
As was the case with other major events, anyone applying to attend World Youth Day would also be assessed for the security and immigration risk that they might pose, the spokesman said.
The understanding, which has not been made public, stipulates that there is no guarantee that applicants will be granted entry to Australia.
The department spokesman said there was nothing to stop people attending World Youth Day from lawfully seeking asylum once they were in Australia.
The Government is believed to be more concerned about people overstaying their visas and, for example, trying to get underground work in Australia than asylum seekers.
Some 140,000 international visitors are expected to attend World Youth Day from about 150 countries.
David Addington, whose Sydney-based organisation Northern Beaches Refugee Sanctuary helped 14 athletes from Sierra Leone seek asylum during the Commonwealth Games, said: “Logic tells you that if you were desperate and you could get a visa to come here (for World Youth Day) you probably would.”
And once here, “you would be perfectly entitled to seek asylum”.
But Mr Addington said he did not expect there to be a large number of asylum claims associated with World Youth Day because genuine refugees would find it difficult to raise the money to get here.