Many readers who are Australian citizens will probably take for granted the ability to move freely in and out of the country without needing a visa. In contrast, for non-citizens, entry into the country does require a visa, and like many other nations, Australia has stringent requirements on the type of person who is allowed to enter. There are numerous types of visas available for a non-citizen that can grant entrance, however, the common thread that binds the visa requirements is that a person making an application, must fulfil the required legal obligations in order for entry to be granted. One of the conditions for a visa applicant is that they meet the Public Interest Criteria, and any non-citizen whose presence in the country is considered controversial, may have their visa application refused, or revoked if they are already in the country under public interest grounds.
The Public Interest Criteria
Visa applicants or holders will generally fail the Public Interest Criteria if past or present activities suggest that their presence in Australia may be problematic.
If an applicant has been known to undertake some of the following behaviours, they may fail the Public Interest Criteria:
• a person has vilified or incited friction within the community, or a specific sector of the Australian community
• represents a danger to the community, or a specific sector of the community
• their presence may be contrary to Australia’s foreign policy interests.
When a visa applicant finds him or herself potentially falling afoul of the Public Interest Criteria, legislative guidance may be sought from a decision maker either via the Migration Act, as well as the Migration Regulations in order to make an assessment on whether or not the person should be granted a visa.
Visa applicants who may be considered controversial
The profile of a visa applicant that may arouse concerns, is broadly speaking, anyone who has a history of extremist, political rhetoric, or views, and has also advocated the violent overthrow of legitimate governments. Furthermore, applicants that have views, or who adopt a political stance that is the antithesis of Australia’s multicultural society, may also arouse apprehension from those who ultimately decide whether or not a visa shall be granted.
Additionally, similar to the character test, a person who has a known history of criminal behaviour – such as the involvement in either organised or war crimes – will also be subject to scrutiny in relation to the Public Interest Criteria.
Who is the decision maker?
In the majority of the cases, an assessment will be made by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship if a decision is needed on public interest grounds. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, or the Minister for Foreign Affairs, will make an assessment on the suitability of a visa applicant in only the most extreme of cases.
The overarching purpose of the Public Interest Criteria is the maintenance of Australia as a harmonious society, while at the same time, preventing anyone who may harm the country’s foreign policy interests.