Open Letter to Minister for Home Affairs – definition of a scientist

3 October 2018

David Coleman MP
Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs

Dear Minister,

SCIENCES AND SCIENTISTS

The problem

I am writing to you as President of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) in relation to a specific matter arising in criteria used regarding overseas travel for those seeking citizenship.

The issue is the question of status as a “scientist”, as provided for under s22C(3) and as then interpreted in its administration, since scientists are may be permitted to spend some longer periods overseas if required for their research duties without compromising their citizenship eligibility.

The term is currently interpreted narrowly by the immigration authorities to embrace only physical and natural science. We are writing to seek adoption of a wider interpretation both as a matter of correct lexicography and as a matter of the public interest.

A wider approach could specify “scientist” as a university linked scholar whose work is based upon rational analysis using logic and/or evidence.

Better still and to avoid continuing arcane argument, would be to simply redefine this exemption as one to be granted to academics working in a university setting. This would then reflect accurately the nature of university research and the benefits to Australia.

The present administrative interpretation is causing huge problems in particular for individual social science and humanities scholars who need to travel overseas as part of their research, usually under standard sabbatical arrangements or for specific collaborative research projects. They can lose eligibility for Australian citizenship if they are overseas for significant periods as approved by their university.

The usage alienates or loses top quality academics for Australia. One irony is that academic social scientists, for example, played an absolutely central role in building the Australian Immigration Selection System. Yet scholars working in this field and seeking citizenship would not be eligible for the current exemption.

The numbers involved are very small, and these are scholars already working in Australia. There is only a downside and no upside from the present administrative quirk.

We are happy to provide reference to individual cases to render this a concrete issue. I am personally aware of a globally renowned statistician who has been denied eligibility, and a political scientist previously at the Sorbonne and Cambridge who has been a Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet adviser.

But the logic is compelling, so we hope that you might wish to refer this issue to the Department for speedy resolution through a broadened definition in these matters that better addresses the public interest, including the formal definitions of public interest required for legislative and regulatory review.

With Best Regards,

Professor Glenn Withers AO, PHD
The Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

Contact Information

Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

    ABN: 59 957 839 703
  • Location: 26 Balmain Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601
  • Postal: GPO Box 1956, Canberra, ACT 2601
  • +61 .2 62491788
  • +61 .2 62474335
  • secretariat@assa.edu.au