The immigration department needs to improve health screening of visa applicants to ensure Australia is not at risk from tuberculosis, a report says.
The Australian National Audit Office report, released on Thursday, identifies inconsistencies preventing the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) from knowing the effectiveness of its health screening program.
While the report says the department has well-established procedures for ensuring temporary migrants do not pose a tuberculosis (TB) threat to Australia, it calls for more thorough checks.
“Notwithstanding these guidelines and procedures, DIAC should strengthen its arrangements to reduce the health risks associated with TB,” it said.
“In particular, DIAC’s health risk matrix for assessing temporary visa applicants should be kept up to date, to ensure that visa applicants of highest TB risk (are) identified.”
The main purpose for screening visa applicants for health issues is to protect Australia from tuberculosis, a deadly disease that primarily affects the lungs.
People identified as having inactive tuberculosis or who have a history of the disease are sometimes allowed to enter Australia if they sign an undertaking that compels them to get a check-up from a health authority after they arrive.
But the audit office report warns the immigration department has little way of knowing whether people attend these follow-up medical checks.
“DIAC has few mechanisms to monitor or ensure visa holders’ compliance with health undertakings, and thus cannot determine whether health undertakings are effective in terms of meeting the intent of the health requirement,” the report said.
“DIAC would improve the effectiveness of health undertakings by establishing arrangements with the states and territories that enable better monitoring and reporting of compliance.”
The audit office said the immigration department needed to better determine which diseases could pose a threat to Australia through migration, particularly new and emerging global health issues.
The department calls on more than 3,000 doctors working overseas to perform medical examinations on visa applicants wishing to enter Australia.
Out of 4.5 million applicants for Australian visas in 2004-05, about 400,000 were required to undergo a health assessment.
About 1,200 did not meet health requirements for entry to Australia, but 156 of these were eventually granted permission to enter.