Expats approaching retirement in Australia can expect to meet tougher residency and qualifying rules for the state pension under a new bill.
The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payment Integrity) Bill 2017 is before the Australian parliament and is amid controversy over unfairly penalising expats.
The bill restricts access to state benefits in retirement for elderly expats.
The government claims the new rules will save AUS$119 million and only impact a few expats, leaving the pensions of 98% unaffected.
The bill would curb the right of expats who can claim state pension payments if they have lived in Australia for 10 years, of which five years must have been consecutive.
Raising residency bar
Instead, the qualifying bar is raised to 15 years continuous residency or 10 years if the claimant has spent five years working in Australia or have nor claimed any other benefits for five years.
Another rule also stops payments if the claimant leaves Australia for six weeks or more in a row, which critics argue is unfair to expats with families overseas.
“The community expects that migrants to Australia should be self-sufficient or rely on family members for support and should not expect to be supported by Australian taxpayers, particularly if they arrive close to retirement age or have been a long-term recipient of an activity tested payment,” said a government spokesman.
The spokesman also explained other benefits are paid to expats who fail to qualify for the pension, such as the poverty level ‘special benefit’ given as a last resort to the poorest claimants.
But campaigners protest only vulnerable expats will be hit by the proposed change.
Penalised in later life
“The reason you get welfare is because you’re vulnerable,” said Emma Campbell, director of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia.
“To then penalise people again in later life because they either found themselves [acting] as a carer or struggling to find work at a specific time of their life is deeply unfair – and particularly for migrants, who are determined to work but face additional barriers.”
The proposed changes would bring Australia into line with state pension qualification of most other leading developed countries that belong to the Organisation of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).