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Since Buddhism is an emerging religion in Australia, many of our practitioners are new Australians, who have arrived here as immigrants or refugees. This applies also to the Sangha, which is mainly comprised of monks and nuns who were born and trained overseas, and who now are building their religious traditions here in Australia.

Almost every monastery, therefore, finds itself having to apply for visas for its Sangha members. This is always a difficult matter, since immigration requirements have not been formulated with Buddhist monastics in mind, and frequently are highly inappropriate. The ASA has repeatedly represented to Australian Immigration on behalf of all Buddhist monastics, and has been successful in changing Government policy to more fairly reflect and accommodate the special needs of Buddhist monastics.

If you are sponsoring monastics for Australian visas, we encourage you to contact the ASA. We are happy to provide letters of support, provided we are satisfied that the application is a genuine one.

The ASA Solves Visa Problems

Income requirements

In 2008, a German born monk, who had been residing at Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth for about 10 years under a temporary visa, applied for an Australian Permanent Residence (PR) visa as a Religious Worker. It was denied and the sponsorship fee forfeited. The reason given was that the ‘remuneration package’, in money or in kind, did not meet the minimum salary level (MSL) that was then about $43,000 per year!

Sangha members don’t need such a salary level since they live simply, with no partner or children to support. The Department of Immigration’s strict application of this MSL rule was going to mean that no Sangha member would ever be eligible for a Religious Worker PR Visa.

With full support from the ASA and the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils, (FABC), I fought this blanket application of the MSL all the way up to the State Directors of Immigration in WA, Victoria and NSW, and then finally to the Minister, the Hon Chris Evans, in a face-to face meeting in Perth. When the Minister heard that Buddhist monks and nuns have vows of poverty (to use an expression that the minister understood) he issued a new directive: as long as the sponsoring Buddhist organisation demonstrates that the Buddhist Religious Worker is to be remunerated no worse than an Australian in the same job, then that would satisfy the MSL requirement. In private, the minister joked something like ‘Since they do not pay you anything at all, Ajahn Brahm, it should be easy to satisfy us that the applicant is being treated no worse than you!’

The problem was solved for PR applications for Buddhist monks and nuns in Australia, thanks to the ASA and the FABC representing such a large number of Buddhist Sangha and Australian temples that the Minister gave them an audience.

Education requirements

Recently, we have been made aware of another problem. A Laotian Buddhist monk, applying for a Religious Worker Visa from overseas, had his application refused on the grounds that he did not have a tertiary degree.

The educational requirement for the occupation Minister of Religion (ASCO Code 2515-11) is an Australian Bachelor degree or a qualification assessed as comparable to an Australian degree.

Even though the monk had a Diploma of Graduation (Formation of the Theology and Meditation of Buddhism) awarded following 3 years of study at Wat Par Nakhun Noiy Institution in Laos, this was not recognised by VETASSESS, the organisation to whom the Australian Government outsources the work of checking qualifications.

It is now the task of the ASA to make further representations to the Minister for Immigration to explain to them that although this educational requirement may be appropriate for Ministers of Religion in some faiths, it is not appropriate at all for Buddhist Ministers of Religion. For example, as far as we know, His Holiness the Dalai Lama does not have a tertiary degree and so would not qualify as a Minister of Religion in Australia!

Please support us in solving such problems with the Australian Federal Government. On our own, our voice would never reach the Goverment, but together they have to listen to our legitimate concerns.

Ajahn Brahm, May 2010

Letter from Immigration Department Concerning Salaries for Buddhist Monastics