Thousands of British pensioner expats are living in limbo in Australia because the government stopped recognising their residency visas a decade ago.
The Australian immigration authorities granted 410 retirement visas to expats over 55 years old who could prove they could fund their retirement from personal resources until 2005.
Since then, the visa has not been replaced with new residency papers.
The government argues the visa was for temporary residence and the terms were specifically designed so any expats moving to Australia with the visa did not become a financial burden on the state.
This means they are not entitled to claim social security benefits, including free healthcare, even though British visitors to Australia can claim back the cost of healthcare under a reciprocal agreement.
Instead more than 3,000 British expats and a similar number from other countries have to pay their own way and take out private health insurance.
All are now at least 64 years old and have lived in Australia for more than 10 years.
Campaign for residency
Lobby group British Expat Retirees in Australia (BERIA) is campaigning for the government to recognise them as permanent residents.
After years of campaigning, Western Australia MP Ian Goodenough has agreed to try and force a private members bill through parliament to improve their rights.
“We want permanent residency to offer expats with 410 visas certainty about their residence in their later years,” said a BERIA spokesman. “Some of the benefits of permanent residency would also ease their financial worries, especially about the cost of private healthcare.”
The Australian government argues that 410 visa holders were never intended to have permanent residence status.
“The visa was aimed at people who were not temporary visitors but did not want to become permanent residents,” said an Australian Department of Health spokesman.
“As such, these people were never afforded permanent status as the visa expressly stated they would have to self-fund their residence including their pensions and health care.”
State pension support
Meanwhile, in the UK parliament, an early day motion calling for all British expat pensioners to have their state pension payments index-linked has received cross-party support from three MPs.
Introduced by Tory Peter Bottomley, the motion was signed by Ian Blackford, of the Scottish nationalists; Greg Mulholland of the Lib-Dems and Yasmin Qureshi of Labour.
An early day motion is a request to debate a topic in the House of Commons. Few receive enough support from MPs to reach the House.