Disability and immigration discrimination

News story iconAmongst all the recent hoopla regarding baby Gammy, the Down syndrome surrogate baby allegedly rejected by its biological parents, one small fact has been forgotten. It is entirely possible, indeed likely, that the immigration department would have rejected citizenship for the child – on the basis he was born overseas and has a disability.   News.com.au has a story highlighting similar examples of immigration rejections on the basis of disability.

Such discrimination is enshrined in law, the Migration Act 1958 to be precise. And it’s exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act.

The article notes the 2008 case of Dr Moeller who, after working as a doctor on a temporary visa, had his citizenship application rejected due to his son having Down syndrome. The reasoning being that such a disability will be too much a “burden” on the taxpayer.

From the article:

IT’S the law you never knew we had.

Or, if you remember the embarrassing case of Dr Bernhard Moeller, it’s the law you thought we’d gotten rid of.

Last week Australians opened their hearts and wallets to the cause of baby Gammy , horrified at the idea that a child could allegedly be rejected because of his imperfections.

Yet Australia’s Migration Act, barely updated since 1958, allows us to do exactly that, whenever the opportunity arises.

Under the Act, children with Down syndrome and other disabilities are automatically refused permanent residency because they are judged a financial burden to taxpayers.

“Our migration laws are still based on discriminatory and prejudicial thinking that assumes people with Down syndrome will be a drain on the nation’s resources,” Down Syndrome Australia CEO Catherine McAlpine says.

In 2008, German-born Dr Moeller was denied permanent residency because his 13-year-old son Lukas had Down syndrome. It was a case that generated so much outrage that it sparked a parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s treatment of disabled migrants.


Dr Moeller had brought his family to country Victoria after taking a job at a local hospital in response to the Australian Government’s plea to foreign doctors to ease the chronic shortage of medical professionals in rural areas.

But after two years on a temporary visa, the Department of Immigration rejected his application for permanent residency because Lukas’s Down syndrome was deemed to be a burden on taxpayers.

It was able to do this because the Migration Act 1958 bars applicants with health conditions, including disabilities, which may lead to use of state medical services.

Conveniently, the Migration Act 1958 is exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA).

The article calls the particular section of the Migration Act an “ugly law” and we’re inclined to agree. However the “cost” of new arrivals to the country is an incredibly sensitive issue. Given this we’re not optimistic of seeing reform of this ugly law anytime soon.

Original article: