Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen. Photo: Andrew Meares

ADVOCACY groups say laws that prevent people with disabilities from migrating to Australia are discriminatory, despite the federal government last week softening entry requirements.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the new net benefit approach would consider the social and economic benefits people and their families would bring compared with the cost of their health care when considering an application.

''This will mean an individual's health costs can be offset by the benefit their family will bring to Australian society,'' Mr Bowen said.

But the National Ethnic Disability Alliance said the new system was still discriminatory against people with disabilities.

Previously, applications by migrants with disabilities were often rejected as it was assumed they would be a burden on the health system.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship figures show about 219 permanent or provisional visa applicants had a health condition in the 2010-11 financial year. Five were refused on public health grounds.

The department was unable to provide figures on the number of people rejected because of disability.

An additional 244 people, who were family members, were refused visas because of their connection with a disabled applicant.

About 400 people did not complete health examinations so their visa applications were not pursued.

Figures from 2011-12 were unavailable.

NEDA policy officer Bee Mohamed said the laws were not consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

''The health requirement assessment criteria are discriminatory because the Department of Immigration and Citizenship assesses disability as a 'medical condition' or a 'disease','' Ms Mohamed said.

She said the department should next separate disease from disability in the health requirement criteria.

''This practice must change to remove any kind of discrimination against individuals with disabilities from current immigration processes and laws.''

Grace Hoath, who is in the final stages of gaining permanent residency, said she was happy to hear the system would become more person-centric.

Mrs Hoath, a blind US citizen, came to Perth to marry her now husband, Kerry, in 2010.

The IT customer service representative found a job within three weeks of getting her work permit, but couldn't access help services. That meant no access to blindness organisations, free travel pass or mobility services. ''Once you get here you get no help at all,'' she said.

The hardest aspect was providing the bureaucrats with documentation and filling out paperwork.

''If I couldn't speak English very well, how would I get all this done?'' she said.