The immigration department’s decision to refuse a visa to a Sydney doctor because her daughter is autistic has been condemned by the medical fraternity as “disgusting” and “reprehensible”.
Dr Nasrin Haque – who has lived with her children in Australia for eight years and whose sister, brother, and parents are all Australian citizens – has been given until Friday to present to the immigration department with plane tickets to prove she and her daughter are leaving the country.
If she fails to do so, she faces deportation.
The New South Wales president of the Australian Medical Association, Prof Brad Frankum, said the government’s actions were “reprehensible”. The chief executive of Autism Awareness Australia, Nicole Rogerson, said the family’s treatment carried a “disgusting undertone”.
Haque, originally from Bangladesh and who has lived previously in Hungary, practises as a GP in Windsor and Pitt Town, in Sydney’s west. She is the primary carer for her 15-year-old daughter Sumaya.
Haque’s application for permanent residency in Australia was rejected because Sumaya’s medical condition – described as a “mild to moderate” developmental delay – was viewed as a burden on Australia.
The administrative appeals tribunal acknowledged Haque was a “valuable asset” to her community, but said Sumaya’s condition meant she failed the visa health requirement and would be too great an impost on the Australian taxpayer.
The government’s so-called ‘one-fails, all-fail’ visa criteria for family applications means Haque and her daughter, as well as Haque’s 14-year-old son Sakir Bhuiyan, face deportation to Hungary, a country the teenagers left as children and whose language they don’t speak.
Only the immigration minister Peter Dutton, or his assistant minister Alex Hawke, have the power to halt the family’s removal from Australia. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection wrote to the family in January saying Hawke had “personally considered your case and decided it would not be in the public interest to intervene”.
The powers vested in the minister and his assistant are “non-compellable” – meaning they cannot be forced to make a decision – and “non-delegable” – meaning the decision cannot be assigned elsewhere, to a public servant or another decision-making body. The department has said previously the powers are used only rarely, and only in “unique and exceptional circumstances”.
A department spokesman said assistant immigration minister, Alex Hawke, would only intervene if he thought it was “in the public interest to do so”.
“The minister cannot be compelled to exercise his powers and he is not required to explain his decisions on any case,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“The minister only intervenes in a relatively small number of cases which present unique and exceptional circumstances.”
In a change.org petition to Dutton, Haque pleaded with the minister to reconsider her case, saying it would devastate her family. She said her daughter was not a burden on the Australian taxpayer.
“Although she does attend a special school, she has not received any other support from the state during her eight years in Australia. Sumaya is an independent young girl with strong computer skills and manages all activities of daily living on her own. My full-time position as a GP allows me to financially support my family without assistance from the Australian state.”
Haque said she had extensive family support in Australia, and that her children had close relationships with their aunts, uncles, and grandparents, all Australian citizens.
“If we are deported back to Hungary, we will not be able to function. Deportation would tear our family apart, and destroy my childrens’ chances of completing their education and becoming productive members of society.”
Frankum said Haque’s children had spent more than half of their lives in Australia, but had now been ordered to leave.
“The fact that an Australian resident of eight years, whose parents and siblings live here, can be faced with deportation due to illness is reprehensible.”
Frankum said the decision to refuse Sumaya’s visa, separating her from her extended family, because of her medical condition, was one of “immense callousness”.
“It’s adding insult to injury that the assistant immigration minister, Alex Hawke, has already dismissed Dr Haque’s bid to remain in Australia as not being in the public interest. I would suggest her patients would argue with that.
“I would further suggest that Dr Haque being able to stay and offer continuity of care to her community is of immense public interest,” Frankum said.
Rogerson said the family’s treatment suggested those with a disability were simply a burden, with nothing to contribute to the community. She said the policy raised serious questions about how the government viewed disability.”
“From our point of view, it’s just so disgusting, the undertone in this message. The message is you are a skilled migrant, you are a doctor … but the minute you’ve got disability in your family, whoopsie, you’re out,” Rogerson said.
“By merely deporting her family because she has a disability, think about what that does to her family, think about what it does to people’s view of disability.”
Rogerson described the policy as heartless, harsh, and unfair.