Temporary partner visas and family violence
Immigrant women on temporary partner visas experience greater vulnerability to harm as a result of family violence, compared to other women. With access to services significantly reduced, evidence is showing that this risk of harm has increased more than ever since the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia. Why do women on temporary partner visas and their children experience disproportionate rates of family violence? And what can be done at a national policy and response level to minimise this harm?
Migration status impacts on a woman's ability to access support when experiencing family violence. Newly arrived women without permanent residency – in particular those residing in Australia on spousal or partner visas – face a unique set of circumstances that heighten their risk of harm. These include:
- financial dependency on her partner
- lack of access to basic social services such as social security, housing and medical support
- unfamiliarity or lack of knowledge with support and legal services
- social isolation which is heightened when English is not spoken.
The level of complexity for women on temporary partner visas who experience family violence is enormous. Importantly, migration status is not typically factored into any assessment of risk for newly arrived women. This
failure to recognise, understand and assess risk pertaining to migration status results in limited recognition of violence, abuse and coercion in all their forms, and their impact.1
In 2019, advocacy to improve women and children's safety gained momentum with the release of the Blueprint for Reform report. This report addressed gaps in the Australian Government's migration and family violence legislation such as:
- Women being at risk of having their visa cancelled or refused if they separate from a perpetrator or report the violence to police.
- Couples having a shared online 'Immi' account make it easier for an Australian partner to control all aspects of the visa process.
- Failure of the Family Violence Migration Provisions Act to recognise violence perpetrated by family members other than a sponsoring partner. Living with extended family members other than a sponsoring partner is the norm in some cultures. Many women experience violence perpetrated by members of their partner's family, for example.
- The migration system not providing a solution if a woman gives birth to her child in Australia. The fear of losing a child is real and prevents many women from leaving an abusive partner.
- The requirement that a relationship must have ceased before a woman can use the family violence provisions is problematic. As is well evidenced, ending an abusive relationship can escalate a perpetrator's use of violence and place a woman's life in greater danger.2
Many women feel their only option is to take the calculated risk of staying in an abusive relationship rather than experiencing homelessness, poverty, an unknown system and the possibility of their visa being revoked.
Cultural and familial norms can also mean that returning to their country of origin may not be an option for many women.
Fear of bringing shame and dishonour to her family, and the risk of being ostracised from them are very real possibilities. At worst, her life may be threatened.
All women need to be safe regardless of their migration status. So,
what can be done to minimise the risk to women on temporary partner visas?
The Blueprint for Reform proposes a number of recommendations to help ensure the safety of women of temporary partner visas who experience family violence, including:
- amendments to the current family violence provisions
- introducing a new temporary visa for victim survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence
- creating a permanent residency pathway where a family law court order regards children
- recognising the stigma of domestic, family and sexual violence and separation for women on temporary visas, who are returning to their home country.
If you know someone who needs support, inTouch provides a list of support services available for people on different visa types.
1 Segrave, M. (2017), Temporary migration and family violence: An analysis of victimisation, vulnerability and support. Melbourne: School of Social Sciences, Monash University, pg 12.
2 National Advocacy Group on Women on Temporary Visas Experiencing Violence, (2019), Blueprint for Reform: Removing Barriers to Safety for Victim/Survivors of Domestic and Family Violence who are on Temporary Visas