Immigration and border protection overview

Budget Review 2016–17 Index

Harriet Spinks and Cat Barker

Migration and Humanitarian programs

A key Budget announcement in the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio each year is the planning figures for the coming year’s Migration and Humanitarian Programs. In 2016–17 the size and composition of these programs will remain substantially unchanged from 2015–16. There will be 190,000 places made available to permanent migrants in the Migration Program—of these, 128,550 places will be set aside for skilled migrants, 57,400 for family stream migrants and 565 for migrants in the special eligibility stream (former residents who have maintained close ties with Australia).[1] These are exactly the same as last year’s planning figures in terms of both the size of the total program and its composition.[2] The total planning figure of 190,000 places has remained the same since 2012–13.[3] The Migration Program planning figure has never exceeded 190,000 places, so this marks five years of the program being maintained at a record high level.[4]

The planning figure for the Humanitarian Program, under which Australia offers permanent protection to refugees and others in humanitarian need, also remains unchanged at 13,750 places.[5] The Humanitarian Program has remained at this level for several years, with the exception of a brief increase to 20,000 places in 2012–13.[6] The Government has committed to gradually increasing the size of the program so that by 2018–19 there will be 18,750 places available. However, this increase is not due to begin until 2017–18.[7] The Government is also making available an additional 12,000 places for humanitarian entrants from Syria.[8] These places, which were originally announced in September 2015, are additional to the annual allocation of 13,750 places under the Humanitarian Program.[9] Progress in processing refugees from Syria to fill this allocation has so far been slow, and the exact timeframe for filling the quota remains unclear—the Immigration Department advised a Senate Estimates hearing in February 2016 that 200 people had been granted a visa under this allocation, and only 26 had actually arrived in Australia.[10] This measure was allocated funding of $827.4 million over four years in the 2015–16 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO).[11]

Adult Migrant English Program

The 2016–17 Budget includes a measure which will redesign the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), which offers English language training to newly arrived migrants and humanitarian entrants. There is very little funding associated with the redesign of the program—it is expected to incur savings of $0.9 million in 2017–18 and expenses of $0.8 million across 2018–19 and 2019–20.[12] However the redesign of the AMEP is a significant announcement and appears to align with the Government’s focus on getting people into employment in this Budget. The stated purpose of the redesign is ‘... to improve client participation, English language proficiency, and employment outcomes’.[13] This announcement follows the release of an evaluation of AMEP in 2015, which suggested areas in which improvements could be made to the program.[14] Further details on the ‘revised business model’ for the AMEP, which will come into effect on 1 July 2017, have been published on the website of the Department of Education and Training.[15] Features of the reformed program will include access to additional hours of training for certain eligible clients, increased flexibility in curriculum choice and service delivery for providers, trialling a competitive model for AMEP providers, and increasing connections with other government employment and education services.

Also of note is the overall funding allocation for the AMEP in this Budget. The 2015–16 Budget allocated additional funding of $14.5 million to extend access to the program to holders of temporary humanitarian visas (Temporary Protection Visa, Safe Haven Enterprise Visa or Temporary (Humanitarian Concern) Visa).[16] This funding was announced as a one-off measure for 2015–16. Increased funding has been maintained for 2016–17 and across the forward estimates.[17] However, this increased funding is part of the additional funding announced in MYEFO for the additional humanitarian entrants from Syria, so whether funding is available to continue to provide access to AMEP for temporary humanitarian visa holders beyond 30 June 2016 remains unclear.

Detention and offshore processing

Of interest in the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio over the last several years has been funding for immigration detention and offshore processing of irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs). The detention and processing of IMAs, both onshore and offshore, has been increasingly expensive, with costs in this area tending to be difficult to accurately predict. Spending grew significantly between 2009–10 and 2013–14, although the Coalition Government forecast significant reductions in spending in the 2015–16 Budget.[18]

The 2016–17 Budget allocates an additional $61.5 million, in 2016–17 only, to support regional processing arrangements.[19] This builds on the additional funding of $342.1 million over two years that was provided in MYEFO for this purpose.[20] This additional funding, in MYEFO and in this Budget, illustrates the difficulty in accurately predicting costs in this area. The 2015–16 Budget provided for spending of $810.8 million for IMA Offshore Management in 2015–16.[21] However, the 2016–17 budget papers indicate that estimated actual spending in this area was almost $1.1 billion.[22] Nevertheless, the Government once again predicts that spending in this area will decline dramatically over the forward estimates, with budgeted spending down to $370.4 million by 2019–20.[23] It is unclear what impact the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea (PNG) concerning the processing centre on Manus Island, and the PNG Prime Minister’s subsequent announcement that the centre will be closed, will have on spending in this area.[24]

The 2016–17 Budget does anticipate savings in relation to onshore immigration detention, with the announcement that three onshore detention centres will be closed, resulting in savings of $68.2 million over five years.[25] There is also a revenue component to this measure arising from the planned sale of Commonwealth land at Maribyrnong and Villawood. However, the amount of revenue expected to be raised is commercial-in-confidence and therefore not for publication.[26] It is unknown exactly how much land at these sites will be sold, or when this is expected to happen. While ongoing savings will be made as a result of the closure of these three detention centres, additional money has been allocated to the onshore detention network to fund capital projects. The allocation of $80.1 million in capital funding over two years will go towards upgrading security and building additional accommodation at selected centres.[27]

Border protection

In what has become in recent years a regular feature of Commonwealth budgets, the 2016–17 Budget also includes mainly short-term extensions of funding for existing counter-people smuggling and maritime surveillance activities.[28] The funding comprises $19.6 million over two years for the Department of Defence to cover the net additional cost of extending Operation Resolute (which includes support to Operation Sovereign Borders); $9.2 million over four years for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to continue international engagement (redirected from a portfolio efficiencies measure); $9.1 million over two years to continue Australian Border Force postings in Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka; and $1.3 million annually from existing Department of Immigration and Border Protection resources to continue funding for the Bali Process Regional Support Office.[29]

[1].          P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), Budget 2016: Strengthening our borders and boosting jobs and growth, media release, 3 May 2016.

[2].          H Spinks, ‘Migration and humanitarian programs’, Budget review 2015–16, Research paper series, 2014–15, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2015.

[3].          Ibid.

[4].          J Phillips, ‘Migration program’, Budget Review 2012–13, Research paper, 9,, 2011–12, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2012.

[5].          P Dutton, op.cit.

[6].          J Phillips and E Karlsen, ‘Migration and Humanitarian Programs’, Budget review 2014–15, Research paper series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.

[7].          H Spinks, ‘Migration and humanitarian programs’, op. cit.

[8].          P Dutton, op. cit.

[9].          Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), ‘Australia’s response to the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crisis’, DIBP website.

[10].       Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs legislation Committee, Proof committee Hansard, 8 February 2016, p. 33.

[11].       Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2015–16, p. 190.

[12].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2016–17, p. 75.

[13].       Ibid.

[14].       ACIL Allen Consulting, AMEP Evaluation, final report to  the Department of Education and Training, Melbourne, ACIL Allen Consulting, Melbourne, May 2015.

[15].       Department of Education and Training (DET), ‘Revised business model for the Adult Migrant English Program’, DET website.

[16].       H Spinks, ‘Responding to unauthorised arrivals’, Budget review 2015–16, Research paper series, 2014–15, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.

[17].       Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2016–17: budget related paper no. 1.5: Education and Training Portfolio, p.75.

[18].       H Spinks, ‘Responding to unauthorised arrivals’, op. cit.

[19].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2016–17, p. 125.

[20].       Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2015–16, op.cit., p. 188.

[21].       H Spinks, ‘Responding to unauthorised arrivals’, op.cit.

[22].       Portfolio budget statements 2016–17: budget related paper no. 1.11: Immigration and Border Protection Portfolio, p. 27.

[23].       Ibid.

[24].       P O’Neill (Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea), Manus Regional Processing Centre will close, media release, 27 April 2016.

[25].       Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2016–17, op. cit., p. 123.

[26].       Ibid.

[27].       Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2016–17, op. cit., p. 170.

[28].       C Barker, ‘Border protection and counter-people smuggling measures’, Budget review 2015–16, Research paper series, 2014–15, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2015.

[29].       Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2016–17, op. cit., pp. 74, 99, 122–25.


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