Migration and humanitarian programs

Budget Review 2014–15 Index

Janet Phillips and Elibritt Karlsen

Australia has two formal programs in place to facilitate the arrival of permanent migrants—the Migration Program for skilled and family entrants and the Humanitarian Program for refugees and those in refugee-like situations. For many years the Australian Government has announced the number of places it intends to allocate each year for permanent migrants under these programs during the Budget process. The 2014–15 Budget has made no change to the planned intakes in either program. However, some services traditionally housed within the Immigration Portfolio have been re-located to other portfolios and the previous six Immigration Portfolio outcomes have been collapsed to three, making it difficult to compare funding levels with previous budgets for certain programs.

Migration program

In the 2012–13 Budget, the planned intake under the Migration Program was increased to 190,000 places—the highest level on record. Migration Program places announced in this year’s Budget will be maintained at this same level and the planning figures will retain the same composition as last year with 128,550 skilled stream, 60,885 family stream and 565 special eligibility places.[1]

As expected, the additional 4,000 family stream places allocated by the previous Government specifically for family members of protection visa holders, a recommendation made by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers in August 2012, will be reversed.[2] The Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2014–15 states that this measure, together with a cessation of new applications for the non-contributory parent category, will achieve savings of $305.2 million over five years and enable faster processing of existing applications.[3] Within the family stream, places for the contributory parent category have increased by 500 and places for partners and children have increased by 335.[4]

Changes to administrative arrangements have significantly altered the composition of the Immigration and Border Protection Portfolio, as reflected in the new reporting arrangements in this Budget. For example, the Coalition Government made the decision not to proceed with the Building Multicultural Communities Program and moved responsibility for both multicultural affairs and settlement services for migrants and refugees from the Immigration Department to the Department of Social Services under Program 2.1 Families and Communities.[5] Most, but not all, of the previous settlement programs have moved into the ‘Settlement Services’ component of the Families and Communities program and multicultural services has been incorporated with other services into the ‘Strengthening Communities’ component of the program, making it difficult to compare funding levels from previous years.[6] In last year’s Budget, additional funding was allocated in the Immigration and Citizenship Portfolio (under Outcome 5: Settlement Services for Migrants and Refugees) in anticipation of increased demand for services due to the implementation of some of the recommendations from the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers.[7] Presumably this additional funding will no longer be required. However, in this year’s Budget one of the most costly of the settlement services, the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), has been moved to the Department of Industry and clearly identified—$236.0 million has been allocated for 2014–15.

Also included in this Budget is $1.3 million over four years to extend access to streamlined visa processing arrangements for students enrolled in advanced diploma level Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses at eligible TAFEs and other education providers (these arrangements have been available to students at certain universities since March 2012). In addition, the Offshore Biometrics program is to be expanded creating savings of $18.6 million over four years (by outsourcing to service delivery partners and introducing more user-pays arrangements) and the Outreach Officer program will cease, creating savings of $11.2 million over four years according to this year’s Budget.

Humanitarian program

The Humanitarian Program is comprised of an onshore and offshore component. The offshore component is further divided into two categories: the Refugee category (UNHCR-referred) and the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) category (for those subject to substantial discrimination). The onshore component provides protection to onshore refugees. Onshore refugees offered temporary humanitarian visas, including unauthorised air and sea arrivals, are not counted under this program.

Since 1995–96, Humanitarian Program planning levels have hovered between 12,000 and 13,750 places. However, in line with the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, the former Government increased the Program by more than 30 per cent to 20,000 in 2012–13, allocating a minimum of 12,000 places to offshore refugee resettlement.[8]

The new Government has returned the Humanitarian Program intake to 13,750 and the 2014–15 Budget maintains the Humanitarian Program intake at 2013–14 levels—that is 13,750 and not 20,000.[9] Of these, about 4,000 will be reserved for SHP entrants, and about 7,000 will be reserved for resettled offshore refugees. Though the onshore component is yet to be determined by the Government, it appears it is likely to be set at around 2,750.

Though the Government has only slightly increased the number of offshore refugees it will accept this financial year (an additional 1,000 on previous years) it has substantially increased the number of SHP entrants it will accept to enable humanitarian entrants to be re-united with family members. Under the former Government, the number of places available under the SHP fell as low as 503 in 2012–13 as more visa grants went to onshore refugees, including those that had arrived by sea. However, despite a significant backlog in people waiting for family reunion, the Government has decided to remove the additional 4,000 places in the family stream allocated by the previous Government.[10]

The Government will also provide an additional $27.3 million over two years for the supervision and welfare of children who arrive in Australia without a parent or guardian and who have been granted a humanitarian visa. This may be linked to the Government’s recent decision to give lowest processing priority to children holding protection visas (who arrived irregularly by boat) that are seeking to be reunited with family under the SHP. In addition, family members of such children will need to show that they have humanitarian claims in their own right, which at the Department’s own admission, will make it more difficult for them to be eligible for an SHP visa.[11] 

[2].           The additional places were identified in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2012–13, but were never formally accounted for in total program numbers by the previous Government. They were counted separately in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s Annual Report 2012–13, p. 63, accessed 14 May 2014. See W Swan (Treasurer) and P Wong (Minister for Finance and Deregulation), Mid-year economic fiscal outlook 2012–13,; and Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, Canberra, August 2012, accessed 15 May 2014.

[3].           For many years contributory parent visas have been allocated higher processing priority and more places than non-contributory visas. As a result, non-contributory visa applicants have experienced significantly long waiting times—currently around 13 years.

[4].           S Morrison (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Budget 2014: Boosting the economy through Australia's migration programme, media release, 13 May 2014, accessed 15 May 2014.

[5].           J Hockey (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2013–14, 2013, accessed 14 May 2014.

[6].           Many stakeholders have been critical of the changes. See for example, Refugee Council of Australia, Settlement policies: where to from here, Background paper, National Settlement Policy Network (SPN), 2 October 2013, accessed 15 May 2014.

[7].           In particular, the decision to increase the number of places to 20,000 was expected to impact on several service providers such as the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) and Translating and Interpreting Services (TIS).

[8].           J Gillard (Prime Minister) and C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), Refugee program increased to 20,000 places, media release, 23 August 2012, accessed 14 May 2013.

[9].           S Morrison (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Budget 2014: 20,000 places for those most in need of protection, media release, 13 May 2014, accessed 14 May 2014.

[10].         For more information on family reunion issues see: Refugee Council of Australia, Australia’s refugee and humanitarian program 2014–15: community views on current challenges and future directions, February 2014, pp. 38–44, accessed 16 May 2014.

[11].         Migration Amendment (2014 Measures No. 1) Regulation 2014, Statement of Compatibility of Human Rights, Attachment B of the Explanatory Memorandum, p. 7.

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