A German doctor hoping to gain permanent residency in Australia said Friday he will fight a decision by the immigration department to deny his application because his son has Down syndrome.
Bernhard Moeller, a specialist physician, came to Australia with his family two years ago to help fill a doctor shortage in a rural area of Victoria state.
His temporary work visa is valid until 2010, but his application for permanent residency was rejected this week. The immigration department said Moeller's 13-year-old son, Lukas, "did not meet the health requirement."
"A medical officer of the Commonwealth assessed that his son's existing medical condition was likely to result in a significant and ongoing cost to the Australian community," a departmental spokesman said in a statement issued Thursday by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
"This is not discrimination. A disability in itself is not grounds for failing the health requirement — it is a question of the cost implications to the community," the statement said.
Moeller said he would appeal the decision.
"We like to live here, we have settled in well, we are welcomed by the community here and we don't want to give up just because the federal government doesn't welcome my son," he told reporters.
Moeller has powerful supporters. Victorian Premier John Brumby has pledged to support the family's appeal, and federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said Friday she would speak to the immigration minister about the case.
Roxon said the case must go through proper channels — an appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal and then the immigration minister — but that "there is a valid reason for this doctor and his family to be eligible to stay here in Australia."
"As a government, we understand the importance of having doctors working in our rural and regional communities and we support them in many ways and continue to do this," Roxon said.
Don McRae, director of clinical services at Wimmera Health Care Group, said the hospital had invested a lot of time and energy in recruiting the German specialist and were very happy when he and his family arrived in Horsham, in central-western Victoria about 100 miles northwest of the state capital, Melbourne.
"We were very surprised by the decision," he said of the immigration department's rejection. "It's distressing for Dr. Moeller's family and distressing for the community who have welcomed him and relied on his medical services."
Immigration Minister Chris Evans has no power to intervene in the case until the review tribunal or a court upholds the department's decision.
The immigration department said it appreciates Moeller's contribution to the community but said it must follow the relevant laws in considering residency applications.
"If we did not have a health requirement, the costs to the community and health system would not be sustainable," the statement said.
More than 150,000 migrants settled in Australia in 2007-08, the department said.
Shortages of medical practitioners in rural parts of Australia have led a number of recent government initiatives to boost the numbers of doctors and nurses nationwide.