Chinese students win right to stay in Australia

Sue Green

THE Australian Government is to grant permanent residence to all Chinese students who sought refuge in the country at the time of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre and in the two weeks after it, honouring a promise made by then prime minister Bob Hawke.

The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Nick Bolkus, said the decision meant 19,500 students who were in Australia by June 20, 1989, and the 9,500 spouses and children who had joined them since would be allowed to stay, subject to health and character checks.

In good news for potential Hong Kong migrants, Mr Bolkus said the Chinese students would be in addition to this year's Australian migrant intake.

The Government will also allow many of those who came after June 20 and have applied for refugee status to stay, but subject to conditions that mean only the youngest and best educated will be granted permanent residence.

There are about 20,000 people in that category, about 12,000 of whom are Chinese nationals, but a spokesman for Mr Bolkus said the criteria to be applied meant only about 8,000 would be allowed to stay. They will be included in the migrant intake target.

The 1,100 people granted refugee status since 1990, many of them Chinese, will also get permanent residence.

Mr Bolkus said the students had been given a clear commitment that none would be sent back to China unless they broke the law, but they had not been able to plan their lives.

''During their stay they have been entitled to some of the rights and benefits associated with permanent residence, such as permission to work. But they have not been able to plan their lives beyond June next year [when their temporary visas expire],''he said.

''They have integrated well in Australia. They are mainly young, with high labour force participation and relatively little reliance on welfare. Because of the benefits they already enjoy and the length of time they have been in Australia, they will not be counted as part of the migration programme.'' The decision on the post-Tiananmen asylum seekers will mean a one-off intake of all those who were granted a visa before tighter checking was introduced on March 12 last year, and who applied for refugee status before yesterday.

The criteria they will be subject to includes being aged under 45, speaking vocational English and owning a business that has operated for a year or having educational qualifications such as a recognised overseas degree.

Mr Bolkus said of that one-off category: ''It recognises that many of these people have been living in Australia in uncertain circumstances for years - and that it is unreasonable to expect them to continue in this situation.

''Nonetheless, the national interest had to be considered and in doing that we looked at the contribution these people are making and will continue to make to Australia.'' The decision ends years of uncertainty for the Chinese students, following the promise made to them by a weeping Mr Hawke at the time of the Beijing massacre.

Since then, attitudes to allowing them to stay en masse have hardened and a joint parliamentary committee last year recommended they be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Bolkus, believed to have supported allowing the students to stay, took over the immigration portfolio after the March general election and promised the students a decision well before next June.