by Shiva Ivaturi
Discrimination against individuals with disabilities is one of the most invisible forms of discrimination and takes place across societies, particularly countries that have publicly advocated for how open and transparent their immigration policies are. When learning about cruel injustices where families have been torn apart and individuals that are valuable, contributing members of society have faced the threat of deportation based on health, the same countries that are touted as progressive emblems for healthcare equity have significant room to
improve. I have highlighted cases in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to outline not only how outdated these immigration policies are, but how they fundamentally digress from the more equitable path that society is emphasizing in healthcare today yet are still being implemented.
Just last year in 2022, in New Zealand, a 12-year-old autistic girl from the Philippines was barred from moving to the country with her parents because of immigration policies that reject people with disabilities or illnesses that may present a high cost to the health system (McClure, 2022). The country sets a limit on an immigrant’s cost to the health system and excludes people with a number of “high-cost” conditions, including physical disability, intellectual disability, autistic spectrum disorders, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, and cancers (McClure, 2022). Arianna’s applications to come to New Zealand have been denied thus far, leaving her in the Philippines for the past six years while her parents have lived in New Zealand (McClure, 2022). The case is one of hundreds rejected under New Zealand’s rules. Juliana Carvalho was initially rejected on similar grounds in New Zealand, citing her lupus and paraplegia as concerns to the health care system (McClure, 2022). Carvalho spent seven years challenging the decision, and while the government granted her an exception to be able to stay in the country, there was no fundamental decision to eradicate the policy that resulted in this discrimination taking place to begin with.
In Canada, a policy known as “medical inadmissibility” due to excessive demand allows the government to deny residency to an entire family if even one person in the group has a disability or medical condition that could place “excessive demand” on Canada’s publicly funded health
and social service systems (Blackwell, 2015). In 2015, Asmeeta Burra, a physician in South Africa, and her architect husband had applied to be permanent residents in Canada, planning to settle in British Columbia. However, her son’s autism triggered a medical assessment that concluded the cost of special education for the boy would total about $16,000 a year, which exceeds the annually adjusted average social and medical cost for Canadians, currently about $6,300 (Blackwell, 2015). Immigration officials rejected Dr. Burra’s submission, which led to the denial of the family’s application (Blackwell, 2015). The Canadian government has since made some changes to its immigration rules in 2018, including amending the definition of social services and increasing the cost threshold at which an application for permanent residency can be denied on medical grounds (Fries, 2019). The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has called for the full repeal of the medical inadmissibility regulations, which it sees as discriminatory (Fries, 2019). Moreover, the revised rules have been labeled as only “timid moves” by some activists, such as James Hicks, the national director of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (Fries, 2019).
Seongjae was born in Australia and has lived there his whole life, but his family’s application for permanent residency under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme was rejected in July 2021 due to Seongjae’s medical issues (Chapman, 2022). He lost his hearing when he was two years
old and was diagnosed with autism at two-and-a-half. Although he regained his hearing after ear surgery at age four, the government still deemed him a burden on taxpayers and a threat to public health and safety (Chapman, 2022). Unfortunately, the case of Seongjae is not unique. In 2015,
Maria Sevilla, a nurse who had lived in Townsville, Queensland for eight years, had her skilled visa rejected because her ten-year-old son Tyrone was diagnosed with autism. The government eventually intervened to grant her son a permanent visa, but the migration regulations remained in place (Chapman, 2022). The National Ethnic Disability Alliance reported in 2018 that it saw 10 to 15 cases of families facing deportation every year due to these health requirements, but there are potentially many more (Chapman, 2022). A 2010 parliamentary inquiry that found the health requirement discriminatory to people with disabilities and in need of urgent reform (Truu, 2019). Dr Abdi, an officer at the Ethnic Disability Advocacy Centre in Western Australia, believes the health requirement is a “punishment for a person with a disability” and their family. The health requirement does not consider an applicant’s potential contributions to society (Truu, 2019).
These cases demonstrate the discriminatory policies and practices of countries that prioritize cost savings over the lives and wellbeing of people with disabilities and medical conditions. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes the inherent dignity of all persons with disabilities and promotes their full and equal participation in society. It also emphasizes that persons with disabilities should not be discriminated against based on their disability, including in the provision of healthcare and social services. Countries like New Zealand, Canada, and Australia are obligated to uphold the principles of the CRPD and ensure that individuals with disabilities and medical conditions are not discriminated against in the immigration process. The policies and practices of these countries must be reformed to remove the discriminatory barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities and medical conditions from accessing care as well as the right to work and live in a place.
In conclusion, the cases of Arianna, Juliana, Asmeeta, Seongjae, and others highlight the urgent need for reform in immigration policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities and medical conditions. These policies and practices violate the principles of the CRPD and
perpetuate systemic discrimination against people with disabilities. It is imperative that governments take action to reform their immigration policies and ensure that all individuals are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Blackwell, T. (2015, January 12). South African doctor’s immigration bid rejected because her autistic … National Post. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from
Chapman, E. (2022, December 29). Australia: Korean family threatened with deportation because son has autism. World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/12/30/azkd-d30.html
Fries, K. (2019, April 19). How we can make the world a better place for immigrants with disabilities. Quartz. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from https://qz.com/1600200/why-disabled-
McClure, T. (2022, April 26). New Zealand denies entry to autistic daughter of immigrant couple. The Guardian. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from
Truu, M. (2019, May 16). More than 15 families a year face deportation because of one relative’s disabilities. SBS News. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from