Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Next Time, Try Alaska

Australia was founded over 200 years ago as a penal colony, but today claims an immigration policy that "is global and does not discriminate on racial, cultural or religious grounds." Bernhard Moeller might dispute Australia's claimed openness. The German doctor has worked in the southeastern Victoria state for two years, but was denied permanent residency on the basis of . . . eugenics:
The Rudd Government is under pressure from all fronts, even Labor colleagues, to overturn a decision denying German doctor Bernhard Moeller permanent residency in Australia because his son Lukas has Down syndrome.

The Immigration Department this week rejected Dr Moeller's application for permanent residency, saying the potential cost to the taxpayer of 13-year-old Lukas's condition was too great.

Politicians, disability groups and the small Victorian town of Horsham, where Dr Moeller is the only specialist physician, were outraged by the decision and have called on Immigration Minister Chris Evans to intervene on the family's behalf.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said the authorities should reverse the decision as soon as possible because Dr Moeller was making a valuable contribution to the region, and because Lukas should be treated like any other child. . .

Dr Moeller is hoping to live permanently in Horsham, having served the community for more than two years both in private practice and at the Wimmera Base Hospital, which services 50,000 people. Local residents have begun a petition on his behalf.

He said he had been upset by his treatment and would appeal against the decision to the Migration Review Tribunal. "If they really think Lukas is going to be a big cost, I'm happy to deal with that, but they never asked me," Dr Moeller said. "We love it here. One of the reasons we came was we wanted to give Lukas the opportunity to go to a regular school, and the school has been fantastic."

Lukas played sport, and was coping well with the support of family, the school and friends, Dr Moeller said.

Senator Evans left the matter to his department yesterday. A department spokesman said a medical officer had assessed Lukas and found his "existing medical condition was likely to result in a significant and ongoing cost to the Australian community".

"It is longstanding government policy that high-cost medical conditions are a consideration in visa decisions," the spokesman said.

The Immigration Department is hamstrung by the current laws, which require it to evaluate the potential cost of an applicant's condition on the basis that the person uses all available services. It cannot take into account benefits such as Dr Moeller's role as a rural doctor.
Apparently it's "standard practice for families with Down syndrome children to be rejected for permanent residency in Australia," regardless of any actual government support paid. But saying that Moeller's occupation is irrelevant is disingenuous: Australia officially encourages immigration by certain scarce and skilled workers such as doctors--and Moeller is the only physician in the region. Further, Australia emphasizes "the value and importance of family migration"--and Moeller moved with his wife and three children (the other two are 21 and 17 years old).

I understand tax-funded aid considerations--U.S. law allows withholding some Federal and state public benefits from some non-citizens. But Australia's inflexible rejection of family residency where any child has Down syndrome is a bit chilling.

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