- From: The Australian
- May 18, 2007
Dr Choong - Siew Yong
MIGRANTS with serious illnesses - including lepers and more than 100,000 people with tuberculosis - have been allowed into Australia despite authorities' inability to carry out proper medical supervision. Read the full reportAn audit of the Immigration Department has found that it knowingly allows migrants to enter Australia with serious contagious diseases but frequently fails to check up on whether they have sought medical attention.
The Australian National Audit Office revealed yesterday that since 2000-01 more than 100,000 immigrants with tuberculosis had entered Australia on the condition that they submit to medical supervision. The damning report said that, despite imposing the conditions, the department was unable to follow up and check whether the medical advice had been sought.
The report comes just a month after John Howard questioned whether migrants with HIV-AIDS should be allowed to come to Australia.
It said the department admitted its errors and had agreed to overhaul its systems. The audit said the current health screening procedures had "limitations and gaps", which weakened the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's ability to protect Australians from public health threats.
The system relied largely on the honesty of visa applicants to disclose whether or not they had a disease that could be a public health risk, the audit said.
Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke said he was shocked by the audit and urged the Government to implement the recommendations quickly.
Australian Medical Association vice-president Choong-Siew Yong said it was "quite concerning" that visa-holders were not complying with their undertaking and urged the Government to do more to address the situation.
Under the Migration Act, visa applicants must meet health requirements that protect the community from public health risks and safeguard Australians' access to health services.
Applicants for permanent visas undergo a medical examination, while short-stay visa applicants - including temporary skilled migrants and holidaymakers - answer a series of questions about their health history and status.
"As a result, DIAC cannot be certain of detecting all people who pose health risks," the audit found.
It was also highly critical of the way the department administered and monitored exemptions from the health requirements which have allowed foreigners with diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B and C and leprosy to enter Australia.
Visa applicants who fail to meet the health requirements can secure an exemption if they sign a "health undertaking" to report to a designated health authority in the relevant state or territory for a follow-up health assessment.
Up to 20,000 undertakings are issued each year - about 90 per cent for people with tuberculosis.
The audit revealed that a quarter of the 5535 health undertakings issued in 2002-03 were non-compliant.
There are no formal arrangements between DIAC and state and territory authorities to check whether people have honoured their commitment to undergo further health checks.
The audit also found that, even when visa-holders were caught breaching their health undertaking, they were still allowed to stay in the country. The audit was also critical of the federal health department for failing to provide DIAC with "timely advice" on potential health risks. DIAC figures contained in the audit show that since 2002-03 nine people with leprosy had signed health waivers and secured visas to Australia. Since 2000-01, 101,468 health undertakings had been given to people with tuberculosis.
The Government agreed to adopt all eight recommendations made by the ANAO including a memorandum of understanding between DIAC and the Health Department.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the Government would also ensure that co-operation across government agencies improved.