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Monday, 9 May 1994
Page: 406

Senator CARR —I direct a question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I refer the minister to his recent official visit to Vietnam and ask: has there been any progress on negotiations with the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on improving migration procedures to Australia from that country?

Senator BOLKUS —There has in fact been a major development in respect of processing out of Vietnam. As Senator Carr says, two weeks ago I was in Vietnam as part of a trip which took me to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. My five-day visit to Vietnam was the first by an Australian immigration minister and closely followed the Prime Minister's historic visit to that country. I must say that when I was there I found a great deal of goodwill towards Australia on the part of Vietnamese officials, particularly a genuine desire to work cooperatively with us on immigration and humanitarian matters.

  Immigration from Vietnam has been an increasingly important part of Australia's migration program. Over the years substantial progress has been made in working with the Vietnamese government to improve migration procedures in and from that country. The processing of applications in Vietnam for migration to Australia, with the assistance of Vietnamese officials, has been mainly for the family reunion program. It was known as the orderly departure program; it became the Vietnamese migration program.

  An important outcome of my visit to Vietnam was an agreement with the Vietnamese government to simplify further the processing of migration applications out of Ho Chi Minh City. Until now, people from that city applying for migration to Australia needed both an exit permit and a passport from the Vietnamese government before their application could be assessed by Australian immigration officials. This sort of requirement had a number of impacts: it created expectations from applicants that once they received these documents their application would be approved; it considerably slowed the process for quite a number of people; and it meant that a number of people may have had to meet expenses which, at the end of the day, they would not have had to incur.

  Mr Nguyen Dinh Binh, Vietnam's vice minister for foreign affairs, agreed that it would be much more efficient for both Vietnamese and Australian authorities to bring the procedures in Ho Chi Minh City into line with those in Hanoi and also in other countries across the world where a passport and exit permit is not required for the purposes of assessing migration applications. The effect of this will mean that migration out of Vietnam takes one big step further towards consistency with orderly migration through the rest of the world. It is in line with the processing that we have out of other countries. It means a speeding of the assessment process in the southern part of Vietnam by up to three months for some applicants. As I have said, it now means that quite a number of people will not have to go to expenses that otherwise they would not have had to meet. This agreement was reached in a spirit of cooperation—a spirit of cooperation which has marked our relations in recent years with Vietnam.