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Wednesday, 30 May 2007
Page: 8

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) (9:35 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Migration (Sponsorship Fees) Bill 2007 will validate the past collection of certain sponsorship fees between 1 May 1997 and 23 May 2007.

It is a criterion for the grant of certain temporary visas that the applicant be sponsored. For example, sponsorship is a requirement for visiting sports people, entertainers, religious workers and academics.

Persons and organisations who wish to sponsor such a person approach my department for approval as a sponsor. If they are successful, the visa applicant then lodges their visa application. Doing things in this order ensures that visa applicants do not have to pay a visa application charge if their sponsor is not approved, as their visa application would have no chance of success.

Regulation 5.38 of the migration regulations prescribes a fee for sponsorship for these visas, currently set at $260. Sponsors pay this fee when seeking approval from my department.

Regulation 5.38 specifies certain conditions for when the fee is payable. One of these was that the fee was payable only where the visa application was lodged by the sponsor. Another part of regulation 5.38 implied that the sponsorship fee was payable only after the visa application was lodged. These conditions did not reflect the sensible practice which had arisen over the years of visa applicants making their own applications after the sponsorship has been approved.

This divergence between the strict words of regulation 5.38 and the normal practice for applying for these visas has meant that the sponsorship fee has been collected in cases where it was not strictly payable.

In addition to this, sponsorship fees were not technically payable under regulation 5.38 for another reason.

Regulation 5.38 provided that if no visa application fee was payable, then no sponsorship fee was payable either. This reflected the fact that certain visa applications can be made at no charge, and it would be inappropriate in those cases to levy a fee for sponsorship.

The concept of a visa application charge was introduced into the Migration Act and regulations in May 1997 to replace visa application fees. A technical amendment should have been made to regulation 5.38 at the time, to provide that where no visa application charge or fee is payable, no sponsorship fee is payable.

Due to an oversight however, this amendment was not made. Regulation 5.38 continued to provide that where a visa application is not subject to a fee, no sponsorship fee is payable. As visa applications have not been subject to fees since 1997 strictly speaking the sponsorship fee was not payable, even though a visa application charge was required.

Regulation 5.38 was amended on 13 April this year to make the technical amendment regarding visa application charges which should have been made in 1997. These amendments, and further amendments made on 23 May this year, also ensure that regulation 5.38 reflects the processing arrangements whereby visa applicants lodge their applications after their sponsor has been approved. These amendments to the regulations provide that, from 24 May this year, the sponsorship fee can be lawfully collected.

The purpose of this bill therefore is to validate the past collection of the sponsorship fee. It does so by providing that where a fee was purportedly paid under regulation 5.38, the fee is taken to have been payable when it was paid. This will validate payments of the fee which were made before the visa application was lodged by the visa applicant and where the visa application was subject to a visa application charge but not to a fee.

The bill will validate only those fees paid in connection with visa applications made between 1 May 1997 and 23 May 2007. The reason for the 1 May 1997 date is that this is the date upon which the visa-application-charge concept began, and it was clearly an oversight that the technical amendment to regulation 5.38 was not made on that date to reflect the new concept.

The bill will validate fees paid up until 23 May 2007, when further regulation amendments were made, ensuring that regulation 5.38 works the way in which it was intended.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Burke) adjourned.