How you can help
The Department of Immigration has rejected the renewal of Abbot Geshe Rapten’s visa on the grounds that he does not live in a monastic environment, yet he has been residing at Thubten Shedrup Ling (TSL) monastery, Bendigo, as an Abbot and teacher since 2015. Please read about the rejection and its impact on our Buddhist religion in the media releases from Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery, Atisha Centre and The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. Please help us to fight to continue our Buddhist practice and development in Australia.
The head of our faith is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has visited Australia several times and touched the hearts of many Australians. Like His Holiness our FMPT centres and monastics are dedicated to interfaith harmony and secular values for personal and social wellbeing.
Sign Our Petition
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Write to your MP or Senator
You can email your local Member of Parliament or Senator about this matter. Please feel free to amend the word document below for your own use. Just click HERE.
What this means for our Buddhist community
The rejection of Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery’s application for a Minister of Religion Labour Agreement for Venerable Geshe Lharampa Thupten Rapten has serious consequences for the Buddhist community. This agreement would have allowed Abbot Geshe Rapten to stay in Australia and continue the valuable work he has been doing for the past five years at the monastery, with Atisha Centre, The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, and with groups in the wider Bendigo and Victorian communities.
It is also a serious problem for FPMT in Australia, the national Buddhist network to which TSL monastery, Atisha centre and the Great Stupa belong. It is the latest in a series of problems we have encountered trying to obtain visas for geshes and monks to come to Australia for short- and long-term stays to teach and instruct us in our faith.
Our FPMT centres have also experienced problems trying to obtain visas for translators, with the crucial distinction between someone who can translate conversational Tibetan and someone who has been trained to translate Buddhist Dharma texts clearly lost on the Department.
Obstacles encountered in recent years
The visa applications for Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche’s visit to Australia in early 2018 for the six-week retreat at The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion were held up for months because of difficulties with getting visas for Lama Zopa’s two Nepalese attendants. The delay put the retreat in jeopardy, risking the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars if the it needed to be cancelled at the last minute. We were finally successful in our second attempt, but the visas were only granted days out from the start of the retreat.
We had difficulty obtaining a Temporary Skill Shortage short-term visa (sub class 482), needed to allow Venerable Geshe Tsultrim to stay at Chenrezig Institute in Queensland. We were finally successful, but it was a difficult, expensive and distressing process.
We failed in two attempts to get a short-stay visa for Venerable Geshe Sherab to visit Australia for five weeks to teach at a number of FPMT centres around Australia. Venerable Geshe Sherab had visited Australia for teaching tours four times in the previous five years, but on this last occasion the application for the same type of visa on which he had previously travelled was denied. A subsequent attempt to apply for a short-stay visa under a business stream was also rejected.As a result, a much anticipated tour had to be cancelled at very short notice to the great disappointment of students. There was a considerable loss to FPMT in Australia in non-refundable international and domestic airfares. Venerable Geshe Sherab is a permanent resident in the United States and the resident teacher at Thubten Norbu Ling, an FPMT centre in Santa Fe. It was difficult to see why the Department thought Venerable Geshe Sherab posed a risk in overstaying his visa, unless its view was influenced by him travelling using a Nepalese passport.
The application for Abbot Geshe Rapten, which has been in process since November 2019, has been rejected on the controversial grounds that Abbot Geshe Rapten does not live or work in a monastic and cloistered environment, as defined by the Department. There is no right to a review or any legal recourse in the matter.
Impact on FPMT in Australia
At the heart of the rejection of Abbot Geshe Rapten’s visa is a requirement for a level of proficiency in English. While Abbot Geshe Rapten’s English is improving and will continue to improve, it is not yet up to the standard required by the Department.
Herein lies a significant problem for our organisation: many of our geshes have had little opportunity or necessity to learn English during their intensive 20+ years of training.
The tougher English standards introduced by the Department in 2017 are now making it difficult, if not impossible, for us to bring these highly qualified and experienced teachers to Australia: the block is to the detriment of our students all around the country.
Our religion suffers as a consequence and we are caught in a bind of needing critical skills but being prevented from accessing the skilled workers that have them.
In a press release on 8 March 2019, the then Minister for Immigration, the Honourable David Coleman, said: ‘The Australian Government is introducing new measures to help religious institutions access the skills they need’.
He went on to say: ‘Religious freedom is a fundamental tenet of our nation and religious institutions should be supported in their important work’.
FPMT in Australia finds it difficult to see how these new measures from the Department have served to help us access the skills we need for our religion or how the Department is supporting religious freedom when we have been met with so many rejections from it.
Further, the Department updated its Critical Skills and Sectors webpage on 15 October 2020 to say that because of the international border closures due to the pandemic, exemption for travel to Australia can be granted to individuals in critical sectors or with critical skills.
The list of exemptions includes ‘providing critical skills in religious or theology fields’.
This shows that the Department is trying to make it easier to bring workers with critical religious skills into Australia even with the restrictions of COVID-19, while refusing to allow Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery to keep someone in Australia with the critical skills necessary to the monastery and the broader Gelug Buddhist community groups.
National Coordinator for FPMT in Australia
+61 408 428 545