blog 200508 immigration

The process of migrating, or coming into Australia, is not an easy one. Despite this, it is possible to overcome many of the barriers of immigration even when there is a health criteria in place.

Under the current laws, people who want to apply for a permanent visa for Australian residency, but who live with a chronic or permanent medical condition face a number of barriers and are possibly treated unfairly. Everyone applying for a visa to come to Australia are required to meet health criteria and are asked questions about health conditions. These include diabetes, Hepatitis B or C, HIV, tuberculosis (TB), leprosy, and other physical and mental disability, and they may be required to have further tests for these health conditions.

The purpose of these laws is to protect the Australian community from a number of infectious conditions like TB. These laws also attempt to manage the financial responsibility for the Australian government to treat a range of medical issues and ensure access to healthcare and services in Australia is not jeopardised. Immigration law consider that if the visa applicant’s health care will cost above $49,000AUD, then it would be a significant cost to the Australian community.

The estimated cost of the applicant’s health to the Australian healthcare system is assessed by the Medical Officer of the Commonwealth for the duration of the visa or a period of 10 years for a permanent visa. If the visa applicant’s estimated cost is calculated as being ‘significant’ and they have applied for a temporary visa, they may be able to reduce the duration of their visa and so reduce the estimated costing to meet the health criteria.

For example, if a person applies for a 5-year visa, and then fails the health criteria due to the estimated costing of their medical condition, they may be able to reduce the duration of their visa to a 2-year visa to reduce the estimated cost and meet the health criteria.

If the Medical Officer of the Commonwealth assesses the visa applicant’s costing as ‘significant’, then the Department of Home Affairs will inform the applicant they do not meet the health criteria and may have their visa application refused.

There are only certain visas where the visa applicant can request the health criteria be waivered. Unfortunately, the onus is on the person to apply for the health waiver and supply more information for a waiver to be granted.

This process can be time consuming, stressful and sometimes affects people negatively. In the case of people living with HIV (PLHIV) who want to migrate into Australia, the cost of their medical condition is considered to be between $12,000 – $18,000 per year (depending on their age, health and medication). For a permanent visa application, this estimated costing is calculated over a 10 year period and people living with HIV will only qualify for a visa with a health waiver.

People in this situation are also constantly navigating their own complex lives. They might be enrolled in study and could also be juggling work commitments. Most people who immigrate have their own fears around safety, health, and housing as well. Finding legal assistance can often add extra pressure on top of everything else for people as well as their families and loved ones.

Even though my parents migrated from Vietnam, I was born in Australia. While I feel privileged and proud to be Australian, it also makes me realise how much inequality there is in the world. As a person living with HIV, I realise there would be so many more hurdles and concerns for me trying to come to this country if I had not been born here. My parents’ decision to migrate means I have many more opportunities and I will never come to terms with these inequal and unjust ways that we all live with in this world.

One of the main challenges for people migrating to Australia is finding how to manage and use (navigating) the Australian health care system. As a person with English as a second language, health literacy can be another barrier. Health literacy is the ability to understand and use health information. Even in Australia, statistics show that 60 per cent of people who were born here, have ‘low’ health literacy. I was surprised to find that only 6 per cent of Australians have ‘high’ health literacy levels. It really makes me stop and think about the disparity and the disconnect between education and health, especially for overseas students who come to live in Australia!

I understand what a huge step it is to move to another country. It could be overwhelming in every way. Some people can feel very alone and helpless. I have a friend who came from Vietnam, who I’ll call ‘Johnny’. He is a student who came here to study. I met him soon after he was diagnosed with HIV through mutual friends of ours. I soon discovered that Johnny didn’t know many people here in Sydney. He had spent a whole month without leaving the house as he dealt with the news of his diagnosis, and he was also avoiding any of the social apps.

He told me how isolated and disconnected he felt with everything here in Australia. Currently, he’s still coming to terms with his sexuality, and his health, and he feels his future is very uncertain. With all his family in Vietnam and not many connections in Australia, he needs all the support he could get. But where do people like Johnny go for support and understanding?

When he is feeling so isolated, fearful and anxious, who can he call on for help and support?  How can we find what services are out there? What if he’s not eligible for Medicare? How does he manage any costs of his HIV treatment or medication?

When I worked for Positive Life NSW, I found these questions pretty straightforward to answer. As a fellow Vietnamese and someone who lives with HIV myself, my role was to be that link for Johnny, and others in a similar place, to find the answers that work. My colleagues who are also peers (living with HIV themselves) also provide support and guidance for others newly diagnosed with HIV, as a first step out of the isolation, fear and anxiety that comes with a new diagnosis.

If you’re in a similar place, give us a call on (02) 8357 8386 or 1800 245 677 (freecall) and we can call you back or email Whether it’s questions about medication, Medicare, or other issues like housing and accommodation or you just want to make some new friends who understand you, reach out. Talking to another person who has a lived experience of HIV can make all the difference in the world.

Legal content updated with the assistance of the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC).

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