Minister says Hong Kong citizens in Australia could be sent back if they fail visa tests

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Alan Tudge has refused to guarantee that people from Hong Kong who fear persecution will not be sent back, explaining Australia decided to offer visa extensions and not safe haven visas in order to attract “serious talent”.

The acting immigration minister made the comments on ABC’s Insiders, defending the decision to offer a five-year extension to Hong Kongers already in Australia which drew China’s ire and Labor criticism the plan did not live up to the government’s hype of offering safe haven.

On Thursday the Australian government offered people from Hong Kong five-year graduate and skilled worker visas, providing a pathway to permanent citizenship, and signalling further concessions for future applicants to attract entrepreneurs.

Related: 'This is intolerable': fearful Australians in Hong Kong hasten plans to leave city

Tudge said the government had decided not to offer separate safe-haven visas because “we already have a humanitarian visa in place” and “we decided on deliberately targeting serious talent which is in Hong Kong, and businesses which have their regional headquarters in Hong Kong”.

“We want to grab some of that talent for Australia, because they come here, they generate businesses, they create jobs, they create wealth for Australians.”

Tudge said that people from Hong Kong had the option to apply for a humanitarian visa “if they can prove they would suffer persecution when they return”, and revealed that 137 Hong Kongers had applied in the past 12 months.

He accepted that “the national security laws [imposed by China] which came into effect on July 1 … certainly change the equation for Hong Kong residents”.

But Tudge said he “can’t give that guarantee” that nobody will be sent back, citing someone deemed a “serious security concern” or of bad character as examples of those who might not be allowed to stay.

Tudge said it was “likely that they’ll be able to stay” if they hadn’t breached visa conditions, then suggesting they would “almost certainly be able to get … permanent residency”.

Tudge said the October budget would outline Australia’s projected migration intake, which Treasury has said will fall by 85% this financial year, down from net overseas migration of 170,000 last year.

Tudge also defended the government’s handling of about 200 refugees and asylum seekers currently in Australia due to medical evacuation from offshore detention, arguing they could return to Papua New Guinea, Nauru, their home country or the US.

“We’ll keep them in the hotels in detention until they exercise one of those options,” he said.

Related: Australia's Hong Kong intervention was hardly strident but that didn't matter to China

The legislation, passed by Labor, the Greens and crossbench and later repealed, specified that those who used the medevac pathway to seek medical help in Australia would stay in detention and return when their health improved, he said.

“Now, we know today, 50% of those people have actually had their health cared for – it’s done and dusted. It’s time for them to return.”

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