Chapter 8 - Temporary visas, bridging visas, and cost shifting
A large number of submitters raised concerns about the
operation of the Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) regime, and sought its
abolition. The committee also received complaints about bridging visas, and the
current status of Commonwealth/State relations in regard to refugee settlement
issues. The evidence received in relation to these issues is discussed in this
Until recently, the majority of people held in
immigration detention were unauthorised arrivals awaiting the outcome of their
application for refugee status. The detainee population also includes non-citizens
who have overstayed their visa or whose visas have been cancelled for a variety
Unlawful non-citizens may be released from an
immigration detention centre under various arrangements. These arrangements include
the granting of visas such as a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or a Bridging
Visa (usually Bridging Visa E or a Removal Pending Bridging Visa). Under a recent
amendment to the Migration Act, a detained person can also be released into the
community under community detention arrangements, at the discretion of the
Most submissions and witnesses agreed that releasing detainees
into the community, on any basis, is preferable to prolonged periods of immigration
detention. However, a number of aspects of the post-detention visas were criticised,
particularly the eligibility criteria and the restricted benefits they provide.
Concern was also expressed that the limited support provided
by the Commonwealth Government for some classes of visas effectively means that
State and Territory government agencies and community and charity organisations
bear the responsibility and burden of looking after many of those visa holders.
Temporary Protection Visas
Until October 1999 all asylum seekers who were assessed
as meeting the criteria set out in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the
Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, including
unauthorised arrivals in Australia,
had immediate access to a Permanent Protection Visa (PPV).
On 20 October
1999, the migration regulations were amended to include a new visa
class — the Temporary Protection Visa (TPV). From that time the eligibility
criteria for temporary and permanent protection visas depended on the mode of
entry. A person who arrived with a visa and subsequently claimed asylum continued
to be eligible for a PPV. By contrast, an unauthorised arrival (such as a 'boat
person') was only eligible for a TPV.
The TPV was introduced in response to a significant increase
in the number of unauthorised boat arrivals using people smugglers to travel to
Australia. The temporary
protection visa regime was intended to reduce the incentive for people to
abandon or by-pass access to effective protection in another country and travel
on to Australia. In effect, unauthorised arrivals,
even if they were subsequently assessed as meeting the refugee criteria, no
longer received the same benefits as those resettled in Australia
after assessment by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
A TPV is limited to 3 years duration. Refugees holding
a TPV can apply for a PPV, which may be granted (after 30 months as a TPV
holder) if they meet the relevant criteria. However, if on their journey to
Australia an asylum seeker resided for 7 days or more in a country where they
could have sought and obtained effective protection they are excluded from
applying for a PPV – they can only apply for another TPV (the '7
Entitlements under TPV
TPV holders are provided with various benefits. DIMIA
argued that the benefits available under to TPV holders fulfil Australia's
obligations towards refugees, while still recognising the temporary nature of
this visa class. These entitlements include:
three year temporary residence in the first
access to Australia’s public health services
including Medicare benefits, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and public
permission to work (including Job
Matching assistance through Centrelink);
access to a limited range of welfare benefits
(including Child Care Benefit, Special Benefit, Maternity and Family Allowances
and Family Tax Payment); and
access to a limited range of settlement services
(such as Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy and Programme of
Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma).
Importantly, a TPV does not allow the holder to sponsor
family members nor does it provide any right of re-entry if they depart Australia.
Criticism of TPV regime
Many submissions and witnesses were critical of Australia's
use of a temporary protection visa regime and some suggested that Australia
could be in breach of its obligations under the Refugee Convention.
There was a widespread belief among submitters that if
an asylum seeker has been found to satisfy the criteria of a refugee, as
defined by the Refugee Convention, they should be granted a PPV. The Law
Society of South Australia (LSSA) pointed out that Australia
is the only country in the world which uses a temporary protection visa regime:
is the only country to grant temporary status to refugees who have been through
a fully adjudicated process and have been found to be refugees according to the
1951 Refugees Convention definition. Australia’s
approach is at odds with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) Handbook, which emphasises the importance of providing refugees with
the assurance that their status will not be subject to constant review in the
light of temporary changes in their country of origin.
The main criticism of the TPV was that, because visas
are only for a limited period of 3 years, it prolongs fear and uncertainty for
asylum seekers. Before the expiry of their TPV, the person must re-apply for a
further protection visa, requiring a full re-examination of their case. This
means that TPV holders live in a constant state of uncertainty, which often adversely
affects their mental health. The LSSA claimed that:
The impact of the TPV regime and extended processing periods on
applicants is enormous ... Lawyers/migration agents and mental health
professionals who work with TPV holders report a high incidence of mental
health problems in this client base ... Research carried out by the University of
New South Wales supports this, with preliminary findings showing that refugees
placed on TPVs have a 700% increase in risk for developing depression and
post-traumatic stress disorder compared to refugees with Permanent Protection
Some of the strongest criticism of the TPV regime was
aimed at the prohibition on sponsoring family members and the ban on re-entry
if the TPV holder leaves Australia.
Submitters argued that the restrictions on family
reunion and travel have a highly detrimental effect on all family members, both
and overseas, which is a major contributing factor to deterioration in the
mental health of asylum seekers. This policy can also impact on families when
they are finally reunited, as explained by the Brotherhood of St Laurence:
It also creates havoc later when families that have been
forcibly separated are reunited and welfare agencies are left to clean up the
mess. Another unintended consequence relates to TPV minors who, because of the
extended periods – it is not 36 months but much longer than that – move out of
their minor status into adult status. That means that they cannot then sponsor
their families as they fully expected they would be able to do, and therefore
have to use other provisions which are very costly.
The UNHCR noted that the TPV regime was introduced in
response to a large influx of unauthorised arrivals, rather than to deal with individuals
or small numbers of unauthorised arrivals. The UNHCR's
main concerns about Australia's
TPV regime are:
Our concerns about the existing laws on temporary protection
visas and temporary humanitarian visas are that they deny an entitlement to
family reunion, they provide no right to re-enter Australia
if they leave and that they are not eligible to receive convention travel
Another criticism of the TPV regime was the open-ended
nature of its application. The LIV pointed out that refugees are often TPV
holders for many years, not just three. The LIV said:
The intended three year duration for these visas has often blown
out, and there are many people who have only obtained permanent visas after
five or six years in Australia. When their spouses and children are in limbo
overseas this can have a devastating impact on their family relationships, and
the delay and uncertainty in the meantime are also recognised to have caused or
exacerbated mental health problems.
This criticism was echoed by Ms
of the Ecumenical Migration Centre with the Brotherhood of St Laurence. She advised
... the temporary protection visa is not for 36 months at all. On
average, people are on temporary protection visas for between five and eight
years and this has catastrophic consequences for people who have enormous
barriers to their settlement because of that policy, the lack of support and
the intended exclusions that it carries.
The TPV regime was described by LSSA as a costly and inefficient
use of resources because the same refugee application has to be re-assessed a
number of times. The LSSA said:
In addition to the obvious human cost, the economic cost of TPV
system and prolonged decision making process are also significant. Each
individual claim must be evaluated at least twice, possibly more if the
decision is appealed, necessitating the inefficient allocation of resources.
Some submissions argued that if the TPV regime is
retained the burden of proof should be reversed – that is, when a TPV comes up
for review it should be DIMIA's responsibility to prove that the refugee's protection
is no longer required. In that regard LSSA suggested:
The appropriate approach is to continue the prior recognition of
refugee status unless there have been fundamental, stable and durable changes
in the country of origin. Decision makers should be required to determine in
the first instance whether such fundamental and durable changes have occurred,
rather than requiring applicants to again prove themselves to be in need of
Several submissions and witnesses described the TPV's '7
day rule' as harsh and inhumane. As
described above, the operation of the rule prevents TPV holders applying for
permanent protection if, before arriving in Australia, they resided
continuously for at least 7 days in a country where they could have sought and
obtained effective protection. Such TPV holders can only apply for another TPV
when their current visa expires which means that refugees in that situation may
never obtain family reunion or travel rights.
In relation to the 7 day rule, the South Brisbane
Immigration and Community Legal Service (SBICLS) noted:
The result of the 7 day rule may mean that refugees are eligible
for continual temporary visas and never be eligible for family reunion. Even if
the Minister eventually allows a permanent visa (eg via exercise of discretion
in Reg 866.215(2)) the delays may mean that the refugees spouse and children
have become lost or have died in the ensuing period.
SBICLS recommended that 'the 7 day rule for temporary
protection visas be abandoned. Failing this, applicants subject to the 7 day
rule should be able to sponsor immediate family'.
The UNHCR raised three specific concerns in relation to
the operation of the 7 day rule. It said:
Our first concern is that it creates a potential for rolling
temporary protection visas ... The second is that there is an overly broad
interpretation of what is effective protection by other states. The third and
final one is the reference to the presence of an UNHCR office in a country
providing the availability of effective protection ... UNHCR’s position remains
that the presence of a UNHCR office does not afford any form of effective
protection. It is there to support the government of that country and only that
government can afford effective protection.
The Community Relations Commission for a multicultural
NSW (CRC), which presented a coordinated submission on behalf of NSW Government
agencies, highlighted the growing burden on community organisations. It noted
that TPV holders (including children) are given only limited access to a range
of Commonwealth-funded settlement services such as accommodation, English
language programs, and psychological and physical health services. This, it
argued, 'has placed a heavy burden on community organisations struggling to
meet the special needs of refugees who are TPV holders and who are left outside
the mainstream humanitarian settlement services'.
The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) recommended that
all persons holding a TPV for more than two years be given a PPV. It said:
Temporary Protection visas create substantial uncertainty and
continuing fear in those to whom they are granted. They fear being returned to
their country of origin after three years or at a future point if the
Government determines, possibly for political reasons, that their country of
origin is safe enough for the TPV holder’s return. In the case of Afghanistan
and Iraq, this
is clearly not the case, yet hundreds of Iraqi and Afghan nationals remain on
TPVs awaiting a determination on their application for Permanent Protection
A large number of submissions recommended that the TPV
regime be abolished. The common strand in their argument was that if an asylum
seeker is assessed to be a legitimate refugee he or she should be offered
permanent protection with the full range of rights and entitlements available
to people on PPVs. For example, the Australian Political Ministry Network Ltd
On a successful determination, refugees should be offered
permanent protection and the full range of rights and entitlements available to
people on permanent protection visas, including settlement services, travel
rights and family reunion.
Similarly, the National
Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) recommended that everyone who is
assessed as a refugee be given a permanent visa:
The NCCA recommends that the Government grant permanent
residency to all refugees presently holding Temporary Protection Visas and in
the future award immediate permanent residency status to those asylum seekers
determined to be refugees.
The Victorian Government believes that holders of TPVs
should be converted to PPVs. It advised the Committee that:
At the May 2005 Meeting of the Ministerial Council for
Immigration and Multicultural affairs (MCIMA), Victoria
proposed a resolution that the Commonwealth grant permanent resident status to
all TPV holders. Victoria's
paper noted that many TPV holders have been living in Australia
for over 5 years with no certainty as to their future. They have been separated
from their families and have been unable to access educational opportunities or
services available to other Australians. Temporary Protection Visas demonstrate
a lack of compassion for people who have been persecuted in the past or who
have a well-founded fear of persecution if they were to return to their own
The committee notes that the Government has acted to
amend the Migration Act and Regulations to allow certain TPV holders to be
granted various mainstream or non-humanitarian visas. This was in recognition
that some current and former TPV holders had made important contributions to
the community during their time in Australia,
particularly in rural and regional areas and some have special skills that
would otherwise qualify them for a migration visa. It was also recognised that
some TPV holders have established strong links to Australian nationals and may
be able to qualify for the grant of a mainstream visa.
There is no doubt that the overwhelming view put to the
committee by State Governments, refugee groups, and church and charitable
groups favoured the abolition of the TPV regime, which was described as harsh
and inhumane. However, the Government sees the TPV regime as an integral part
strategy to limit and control the number of unauthorised arrivals. It believes
that the TPV regime, together with mandatory detention and off shore
processing, is an effective deterrent to large influxes of boat people . It can
also be argued that providing such a deterrent is also in the wider interests
of illegal arrivals, since it limits incentives for people to risk using people
smugglers, with all of the attendant risks.
Given that the number of unauthorised arrivals has
fallen to very low numbers in recent years, the committee considers that the
time is right to abolish the operation of the TPV regime. Although there is
little real evidence of its deterrent value, the TPV regime may have acted as a
deterrent to some. But there is no doubt that its operation has had a
considerable cost in terms of human suffering. It may be arguable that such a
measure was appropriate in a time of a large increase in the number of
unauthorised arrivals but those circumstances no longer apply.
The committee recommends that the Temporary Protection
Visa regime be reviewed. Specifically, the review should consider the possible
abolition of the '7 day rule', and that all TPV holders be given the
opportunity to apply for permanent protection visa after a specified period.
A bridging visa (BV) enables a non-citizen to lawfully stay
in Australia during
a period of transition. A BV is not considered to be a substantive visa. Temporary
situations in which a BV might be granted include:
while an application for a substantive visa is being
processed by DIMIA;
while a non-citizen is waiting for the outcome
of a merits or judicial review; and
while a non-citizen who does not hold a
substantive visa makes arrangements to leave Australia.
The migration regulations establish seven classes of BVs
(Bridging Visa Class A; B; C; D; E; F; and R). The conditions attached to a BV vary
according to the class of visa applied for and the applicant’s immigration
status and personal circumstances at the time of application.
A person who arrives lawfully in Australia
and subsequently claims asylum may be granted a bridging visa that provides
them with lawful status and permission to remain in Australia
during the processing of their application for a protection visa. The bridging
visa ceases 28 days after notification of a decision that a person is not a
refugee. If an application for review is lodged with the Refugee Review
Tribunal (RRT) during that 28-day period, the bridging visa remains active for
the duration of the RRT review. It ceases 28 days after notification of a
decision by the RRT that a person is not a refugee.
The number of BVs in existence as at 30 June is shown
in Table 8.1 below:
Table 8.1: Bridging visa classes A, C and E in effect as at 30 June
As at 30 June
BV – class A
BV – class C
BV – class E
Total all BVs
Source: Figures provided to the Committee by DIMIA on 9 and 12 January 2006.
Note: Figures for Bridging Visa classes B, D and F not shown as they
only represent about 1 per cent of the total. Bridging Visa Class R ('Removal
Pending Bridging Visa - RPBV) came into existence on 11 May 2005. There were no RPBVs granted during 2004-05. Thirty
one RPBVs were granted between 1 July 2005 and 12 January 2006.
The committee received a number of criticisms in
relation to bridging visas, specifically in relation to Bridging Visa Class E
(BVE) and the Removal Pending Bridging Visa (RPBV).
Bridging Visa Class E
A Bridging Visa Class E (BVE) is available to certain
unlawful non-citizens who are located by DIMIA and who may be applying for
visas or making arrangements to depart Australia. That is, a BVE is for people who are
detected as unlawful non-citizens and who either make arrangements to leave Australia
or make an application for a substantive visa. There are two sub-classes within
BVE: 'general' and 'protection visa applicant'. The latter is available to some
people who have been refused or have bypassed immigration clearance and who
have applied for a protection visa.
People in immigration detention can apply for a BVE and
if granted they must be released from detention.
Depending on the individual circumstances, a BVE may
include a 'no work' condition. Protection visa applicants who did not lodge
their application within 45 days of their arrival, or whose application is
under judicial review, can not get permission to work as part of their BVE.
Table 8.1 above indicates that the number of BVEs has
remained at a relatively high level over the last 5 years. BVEs represent an
increasing proportion of total bridging visas granted, rising from 12 percent
as at 30 June 1999 to 33
per cent as at 30 June 2005.
Criticism of BVE
The conditions commonly applied to BVEs were severely
criticised by several submitters. In particular, the prohibition on undertaking
work, including voluntary work, and the exclusion from services such as Medicare,
rental assistance and transport assistance.
Because of their inability to work and to access
Commonwealth support services, BVE visa holders are released into the community
without adequate means of support and may be left destitute. To survive, BVE
holders are forced to seek assistance from State and Territory government
agencies and particularly from community and charitable organisations. For example, Mr
Ahmed Al Kateb,
a stateless Palestinian asylum seeker, stated that he is :
... presently in community detention on a Bridging Visa E (50). Although
I am no longer in an Immigration Detention Centre, having been released from
the Baxter facility in April 2003, I simply moved from a
“small detention” to “big detention”. My life is hopeless. I was
psychologically damaged by my 2 years experience in detention and my condition
gets worse, not better because there is no solution in sight to my problem. DIMIA
has washed its hands of me and is not taking any action to help me find a
solution. I am not allowed to work and not entitled to any welfare benefits. I
am full of despair and often consider committing suicide.
Ms J Turner, a volunteer with the Asylum Seekers
Resource Centre Melbourne, made a strong plea for greater assistance to BVE
... the daily experiences of people in our community surviving
somehow (just) on Bridging Visa E without access to the right to work (even
volunteer work), to Medicare and health care, to any refugee programs, to
schools and education, even to concession rates on public transport. They have
no dignity whatsoever, no hope and no ability to trust DIMIA advice or
outcomes. These people in contemporary Australia
are literally starving, dependent on charity for food and a roof over their
heads, for an unlimited and uncertain period of time.
A number of submissions argued that the welfare of BVE
holders is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. However, by denying
them access to income support and welfare services, the Commonwealth has effectively
shifted this responsibility onto State and Territory governments and community
and charity organisations.
The Catholic Migrant Centre maintained that any asylum
seeker who is released into the community on a visa should be given appropriate
support. They said:
Currently, when a detainee is released into the community on a
bridging visa ... the Australian government makes no provision for the basic
needs of that person (accommodation, income, medical care etc). The bridging
visa holder is entirely reliant upon the Australian community and charity for
his or her day to day survival ... The provision of adequate support for asylum
seekers should be the responsibility of government. It is totally inappropriate
to expect the community and charities to provide for the most basic and
fundamental needs of asylum seekers in the community.
The Uniting Church
Typically, these vulnerable people are denied working rights and
access to the income support scheme administered through the Australian Red
Cross as a result of their BVE status. Additionally, without a valid tax file
number these asylum seekers are unable to access the Medicare scheme and are
cut off from access to fundamental and necessary health and medical services.
The St Vincent de Paul Society highlighted the plight
of children and the sick in these situations:
The plight of people within the community on Bridging Visa E
with no work rights, medical care and welfare support is quite desperate and of
grave concern to the Society, especially given that in many cases children are
also affected ... It is a particular concern when individuals are released for
health reasons without a health management plan, or the resources to provide
health care, being put in place prior to their release.
The NSW Refugee Health Service (RHS) advised the
committee that it sees many patients who are ineligible for Medicare and income
support because, although arriving in Australia
on a valid visa, they failed to lodge their application for refugee status
within 45 days of arriving in Australia.
Besides the limited services offered by RHS such people had few options:
Other options include charity run organizations or a number of
general practitioners, dentists and other willing to see patients for free or
for a nominal cost. However such understanding health professionals and
services can rapidly become overwhelmed by the need.
The RHS argued that the denial of access to Medicare
could have serious consequences not only for the asylum seeker but also the
community at large. For example, the early diagnosis of communicable diseases,
such as tuberculosis, may be delayed with dire implications for both the
patient and the community. The RHS recommended that asylum seekers living in
the community should be given work rights and Medicare access until their
refugee assessment has been completed. However, if that is not acceptable they recommend
that, at least:
ASAS funding should be expanded to cover
preventive and curative health care costs for anyone in need;
asylum seekers should be given access to PBS medication;
Commonwealth/State agreements should allow
hospitals to provide free care for asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds.
The Community Relations Commission for a multicultural
NSW (CRC) recommended that the assessment of visa applications for asylum
seekers on bridging visas be expedited. It gave an example of pressure placed
on the State's housing resources by holders of bridging visas requiring
emergency assistance to tide them over while their visa application is being
The NSW Department of Housing also provides housing assistance
to homeless asylum seekers who are on bridging visas, while they are awaiting
resolution of their permanent residency. A number of these cases may take
lengthy periods of time to resolve. During that time asylum seekers are subject
to high levels of hardship as they have no income and are not permitted to
work. These delays place additional pressures on State government resources. A
speedier determination of visa status would alleviate some of this pressure.
The Migration Institute of Australia (MIA) noted that bridging
visas normally exclude work rights, access to Medicare and ASAS. Exclusion from
the normal means of support can cause great hardship, especially when there are
protracted delays. It was argued that this group of people are vulnerable to homelessness,
illness and extreme poverty; and their children are denied education and basic health
care. The MIA recommended that the Migration Act
be amended to require that all bridging visas include work rights
Removal Pending Bridging Visa
A RPBV enables the release from immigration
detention of certain unlawful non-citizens who are awaiting removal from Australia
and are invited by the Minister to apply. The Minister's offer is open for 7
The key eligibility
requirements for RPBV are that the person is in immigration detention;
any visa applications made by the person have been finally determined; and the
person’s departure from Australia
is not reasonably practicable for a time but the Minister is satisfied that the
person will do everything possible to facilitate their removal from Australia.
RPBV holders are entitled to benefits similar to those
accorded to TPV holders. The RPBV does not allow for sponsorship of family members or provide any
right of re-entry if the visa holder departs Australia. Access to the visa is
not merits reviewable.
The RPBV came ito operation on 11 May 2005. No RPBVs were granted in May
or June 2005. Thirty one RPBVs were granted between 1 July 2005 and 12 January
Criticism of RPBV
This visa class attracted criticism on the grounds that
the period (7 days) in which the Minister's
offer must be accepted is too short;
the requirement to agree to do 'everything
possible' to facilitate removal from Australia is ill defined and creates
a person can be removed at any time; and
forcible repatriation is not reviewable.
The Uniting Church
expressed concern that a person's desire to leave detention might unduly
influence them to agree to an offer of such a visa, even though it may not be
in their longer-term interest to do so.
The Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC) said that
release from detention on an RPBV is clearly preferable to remaining in
detention for a detainee who has exhausted all legal avenues. The ASRC
expressed its general support for the RPBV based on the recent removal of two
major defects of the visa — the precondition requiring detainees to sacrifice
their legal rights to apply to remain in Australia, and the precondition
forcing detainees to provide a signed undertaking agreeing to co-operate with
arrangements to remove them from Australia. However, the ASRC remains concerned
about two other aspects of the RPBV — the fact that RPBV holders can be removed
at short notice and at any time, and the non-reviewability of forcible
The committee's main
concern is the financial hardship faced by asylum seekers, particularly those
with families and children, who are granted a BVE with no work rights and
inadequate access to basic services., A policy which renders a person destitute
is morally indefensible and an abrogation of responsibility by the
The committee notes a recent decision of the House of
Lords, which held that removal of subsistence support from asylum seekers
leading to destitution breached their right not to be subjected to inhuman or
In the absence of a constitutional or statutory bill of
rights, such issues cannot be tested in the courts. Primary responsibility for
ensuring that minimum standards essential to the survival and wellbeing of all
people in Australia
rests with the Government and the Parliament.
The necessity to rely on State/Territory agencies and
community and charitable organisations for service essential to survival represents
a significant cost-shifting by the Commonwealth. During Hotham Mission advised
For the past 3 years, the Victoria State Government has provided
emergency relief funding to not-for-profit charitable agencies working with
asylum seekers in the Victorian community who are denied the right to work,
Medicare or any form of income due to federal policies introduced in 1997. An
allocation of $300,000 has been provided over the past 3 years to Network of
Asylum Seeker Agencies Victoria (NASAVic) and distributed by the Victorian
Council of Social Services through the Department of Human Services.
The committee also notes that the Senate Select
Committee on Ministerial Discretion in Migration Matters considered the issue
in its report of March 2004. That committee concluded that visas with work
rights should be available for all applicants during the appeal periods, up to
the time of an outcome of a first request for ministerial intervention (to
discourage repeated appeals as a strategy to prolong their stay in Australia).
The Select Committee report also recommended that children who are seeking
asylum should have access to ASAS or some other form of social security support
throughout the period of any requests for ministerial intervention.
This committee endorses the findings and
recommendations of the Select Committee on Ministerial Discretion in Migration
Matters, particularly as they relate to bridging visas. The relatively high
number of BVEs makes the issue more pressing.
The committee recommends that all holders of Bridging
Visas Class E should be given work rights.
If the Government rejects this recommendation, the Committee
considers that the current requirements should at least be loosened. In that
regard it recommends that the '45 day rule'
be extended to 90 days.
The committee recommends that if the Commonwealth
Government rejects the proposal that all Bridging Visa holders have work
rights, the Committee recommends that the current '45 day rule' be doubled to
90 days to give people more time to apply for a protection visa.
Humanitarian Program – cost shifting
The Commonwealth has constitutional responsibility for immigration
matters. The committee considers
that part of this responsibility is to make provision for the health and welfare
of immigrants, including asylum seekers. However, as discussed under the section
on Bridging Visas, certain asylum seekers are released into the community on
visas which provide limited Commonwealth support. Many submitters argued that
the Commonwealth is effectively abrogating its responsibilities to those
visa-holders, and cost-and-responsibility shifting to the States/Territories
and charitable organisations.
The same allegation was made in relation to the
provision of support for refugees entering Australia
lawfully under the Humanitarian Program. Submissions from the Governments of New
South Wales, Victoria
and Western Australia contended that
Commonwealth support for entrants under the Humanitarian Program has not kept
pace with funding requirements.
offshore resettlement component of Australia's Humanitarian Program includes
two categories of permanent visa, viz:
Refugee — for people who are subject to persecution in
their home country and who are in need of resettlement. The majority of
applicants who are considered under this category are identified and referred
by the UNHCR to Australia for resettlement.
Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) — for people outside their home country
who are subject to substantial discrimination amounting to gross violation of
human rights in their home country. A proposer (or sponsor) who is an
Australian citizen, permanent resident or eligible New Zealand citizen, or an
organisation that is based in Australia, must support applications for entry
under the SHP.
A permanent offshore humanitarian visa (refugee or SHP)
gives the holder:
Access to Australia’s public health services
Permission to work
Access to welfare benefits
Access to the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement
Permission to travel and enter Australia for
five years after grant; and
Eligibility to apply for citizenship after two
years permanent residence.
Table 8.2 shows the number of visas granted, by major category,
Table 8.2: Australia's Humanitarian Program, visas granted by major category
Total visas issued
under Humanitarian Program
Source: Derived from DIMIA Fact Sheet 60 'Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian Program', accessed on
website 5 January 2006.
Other* — includes Special Assistance Visas, Safe Haven Visas, and
Temporary Humanitarian Visas. 5,900 Safe Haven visas were issued in 1999-2000
(4,000 to Kosovars offshore and 1,900 to East Timorese onshore). That was the
only year Safe Haven Visas have been issued since 1998-99.
^ The total of 6,755 SHP visas granted in 2004-05 includes 170 visas
granted onshore to East Timorese and others. A total of 12.096 offshore Refugee
and SHP visas were granted in 2004-05.
DIMIA provides services to permanent humanitarian visa
holders through two main programs — the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement
Strategy (IHSS) and the Community Settlement Service Scheme (CSSS).
provides intensive settlement support to help humanitarian entrants achieve
self sufficiency as soon as possible. IHSS services are generally provided for up
to six months, but may be extended for particularly vulnerable clients. Services
provided under the IHSS include case coordination, information and referrals;
on-arrival reception and assistance; accommodation services; and short term torture
and trauma counselling services.
services are delivered by service providers contracted to DIMIA – often State
and Territory Government agencies such as Departments of Housing, Education and
Health. Volunteer groups also work with service providers to support entrants
and assist them to settle into the local community.
humanitarian entrants exit the IHSS, they are referred to general settlement
services funded under the Community Settlement Services Scheme (CSSS) and provided
through Migrant Resource Centres, Migrant Service Agencies and organisations.
The main complaint of the States is that the
Commonwealth has been slow to recognise and respond to the many unique and
unanticipated problems brought about by the changing make-up of humanitarian
Africans now receive about 70 per cent of offshore
humanitarian visas, compared to just 16 per cent seven years ago (see Table
8.3). That dramatic change in the demographic make-up of the humanitarian
intake has involved many issues which the States assert require more input by
The top five countries of birth for offshore
humanitarian visas granted in 2004-05 were: Sudan
– 5220; Iraq –
– 1,291; Liberia
– 868; and Sierra Leone
– 751. In contrast in 1998-99 the
top five countries of birth were: Former Yugoslavia – 2,202; Iraq
– 1,545; Croatia
– 1,225; Bosnia-Herzogovina – 1,180; and Afghanistan
Table 8.3 shows how the intake of the offshore part of
the humanitarian program has changed:
Table 8.3: Offshore resettlement program (Refugee & SHP) visa
grants, by region of origin
Middle East & SW Asia (%)
Asia & Americas (%)
Total offshore Refugee
and SHP visas granted (number)
Source: Derived from DIMIA Fact Sheet 60 'Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian Program', accessed on
website 5 January 2006.
Note: percentages in the table have been rounded.
Table 8.4 shows the distribution by State/Territory of
entrants under the Humanitarian Program in 2004-05.
Table 8.4: Distribution by State/Territory of entrants under the
Humanitarian Program in 2004-05.
Source: Figures provided to the Committee by DIMIA on 9 January 2006.
A number of specific issues were raised by the NSW, Victoria
and Western Australia Governments to illustrate the extent of the alleged cost
shifting by the Commonwealth. The submission from NSW was particularly comprehensive
and provided the basis for much of the following discussion.
Changing settlement needs
The NSW and Western Australian Governments both highlighted
the increased numbers of humanitarian entrants arriving from Africa
with their unique and complex settlement needs. The WA submission noted:
These recently arrived refugees, many of whom have spent years
in refugee camps, require a higher level of intensive service to meet their
complex health, education and housing needs.
The Commonwealth's IHSS program generally provides
support services for up to 6 months. The States argue that timeframe may be
sufficient for entrants from Europe, but it is
insufficient for entrants from more less developed regions. The WA submission
Consultations with the community and service providers reveal
the gross inadequacy of this time limit for refugees and humanitarian entrants
who have complex needs and require more ongoing settlement assistance.
There are severe shortages of experienced case workers
and interpreters with the required language skills, and few local
African-focused community organisations to assist with new arrivals.
The NSW Government recommended greater consultation
between the Commonwealth and States / Territories about future groups of
humanitarian entrants so that pre-arrival planning can be improved and an
extension of the IHSS program both in terms of time and range of services
provided to better cater for refugee needs, especially those coming from Africa.
New Settlement Grants Program
The NSW Government submission noted that from July
2006 a new Commonwealth Settlement Grants Program will replace the current
Migrant Resource Centres (MRC) / Migrant Service Agencies (MSA) Core Funding
and Community Settlement Service Scheme (CSSS). The new program will be an annual application-based grants
program. Funding, including overheads, will be provided to successful
organisations on a project basis for one, two, or three years.
The submission voiced a number of concerns with the new
approach, such as the need for longer funding cycles (of at least 3 years) to
maintain consistent services to immigrant communities. NSW recommended that the
Commonwealth closely monitors the impact of the change in program
funding and arrangements on the quality and range of services provided to
migrants and new entrants.
The role of 'proposers' under the
Special Humanitarian Program
proposer is an essential requirement for a person to be considered for entry to
Australia under the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP), but not under the
Refugee category (although the inclusion of a proposer can help the assessment
of an application for an offshore refugee visa).
Proposers of successful applicants under SHP (or
the applicants themselves) must pay for the applicant's travel to Australia.
For applicants in the Refugee category, the Australian Government pays this
the entrant’s arrival in Australia, the proposer is expected to assist in the
settlement of the entrant, including:
the entrant at the airport;
for the entrant’s immediate accommodation needs;
the entrant to find permanent accommodation; and
the entrant with services and service providers such as Centrelink, banks,
public transport, translating and interpreting services, health care, permanent
housing, education, employment services and childcare.
The NSW Government submission raises a number if
issues in relation to the provision of support by proposers to entrants under
SHP. Experience has shown that many proposers cannot fulfil their obligations,
leaving State agencies to pick up the pieces. The submission said:
In many cases those proposers, who are former humanitarian
entrants, face severe hardships in fulfilling the financial and other
responsibilities cast upon them when they sponsor family members to enter Australia.
While the desire to reunite families and bring relatives out of camps and other
conditions of hardship is understandable, the current immigration system, which
places significant financial responsibility onto proposing parties, severely
disadvantages and places people – both entrants and proposers – under severe
financial pressure ... The financial obligation on sponsored families to repay
the debt incurred by their proposers, such as the cost of airfares, is currently
forcing many secondary aged students to leave school early and seek work
The NSW submission argues that SHP entrants often turn
up in locations without any prior notice or consideration as to the availability
or appropriateness of local services, such as schooling facilities in rural and
While acknowledging recent DIMIA initiatives to improve
support to SHP entrants, the NSW submission expressed concern that the needs of
SHP entrants will not be adequately met. The submission strongly recommended
greater consultation and coordination between Commonwealth, State and Local
Government agencies and community service providers in relation to SHP
entrants. The Commonwealth should more closely monitor actual support provided
by proposers, and be prepared to quickly intervene if proposers are found not
to be fulfilling their obligations.
The State Governments of NSW, Victoria
and Western Australia (WA) all expressed concern at the impact on health
services of relatively large numbers of African refugees arriving in Australia.
The Victorian Government said:
There is a need for a review of the pre-arrival, post-arrival
and longer term health needs of sub-Saharan refugees with respect to:
- Current arrangements for pre-departure medical
assessment and treatment of refugees;
- Levels of funding support for State and
Territory health services to undertake appropriate screening and specialist
- The degree of Medicare support for the time and
complexity required in the initial assessment of a refugee and their family,
and for the continuing primary health care of newly arrived refugees with
multiple complex health issues.
These sentiments were echoed by Western
Australia which noted:
The volume, health care complexity, and acuity of newly arrived
African refugees entering Australia
have risen significantly over the last 12 months. The WA Department of Health
is having to provide care and treatment for large groups of refugees (100+)
from sub-Saharan Africa who are arriving with minimal notice,
discussion, or new financial investment. Existing services cannot cope with the
size of the groups, their multiple needs, and high acuity, creating an urgent
need for an improvement in the health services provided.
The pre-departure medical assessments performed in Africa
are of dubious accuracy and, in their current form, do not assist in the
assessment of new arrivals. There is no pre-departure screening or treatment
for acute malaria and no clear pathway for the required medical assessment
within a short time frame after arrival.
The point was emphasised that several of the diseases
suffered by these refugees are not common in Australia.
That means normal general practitioners and even emergency departments of
public hospitals are not equipped to handle such cases. This difficult
situation is often exacerbated by communication difficulties caused by newly
arrived refugees having little English and a shortage of appropriate
The NSW Government submission emphasised that the
health and welfare of refugees must be cared for, while the wider community
must be protected from the importation of infectious diseases. It is the
Commonwealth's responsibility to ensure that these twin objectives are met.
All three State Governments argued that current Commonwealth
funding for health services for refugees is totally inadequate. Although
Medicare covers the cost of most of the blood tests undertaken, medications are
often not covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and there is no
provision for the intensive use of staff resources (including clinical,
specialist and pathology services) and the work involved with the follow-up of
screening checks and treatment.
The NSW submission made a number of recommendations,
including that the Commonwealth undertake an urgent review of the pre-departure, post-arrival and longer term
health care needs of the sub-Saharan refugees. The submission argued that while
this macro review is being undertaken the following changes should be
The Commonwealth to finance a comprehensive pre-departure
medical assessment and treatment service for African refugees;
The Commonwealth to provide additional funds to
State and Territory Health Services to enable the provision of appropriate screening
and specialist care and health liaison services; and
The Commonwealth to introduce a Medicare item
which reflects the time and complexity required in the initial assessment of a
refugee and their family (similar to the Indigenous Health Check item), and a
separate item for continuing primary health care of refugees with multiple
complex health issues.
The NSW submission noted that refugees have often
experienced extended periods of stress and trauma and as a result have acute
counselling needs. Counselling organisations should employ appropriate bilingual
case workers. Traditional counselling techniques and services should be
reassessed to ensure that they are appropriate to newly-arrived refugees.
The NSW submission identifies housing as a major issue
for entrants under the humanitarian program. The submission points out that
many of the families are large (55 per cent of families assisted in 2003-04 had
more than 5 members), and housing options for large families are limited in
availability and cost in both metropolitan and regional areas. Furthermore,
real estate agents are often reluctant to rent properties to newly-arrived
NSW recommends that the Commonwealth enhance its
programs for humanitarian entrants to gain suitable housing. In the meantime,
the Commonwealth should provide on-arrival accommodation for longer than four
weeks, especially for groups which are known to have difficulty finding
The NSW and WA Governments noted the special
educational challenges faced by students from Africa and
the Middle East. They often arrive with limited or no
schooling, little or no literacy in their first language, and may have
experienced torture and trauma.
The Commonwealth's 'ESL New Arrivals' program provides a
grant of $4,854 for one year of intensive English training. However, the State
Governments have calculated that the real cost of providing intensive English
tuition to refugees from Africa is actually between $10,000 and $12,000, two to
three times the allocated amount per refugee. The cost of educating a person
who is basically illiterate is high due to the intensive and extensive tuition
required. Furthermore, with such students there is a need for schools to employ
specialist bilingual support staff to assist teachers and school counsellors.
There is a severe shortage of interpreter services for African,
Arabic and other minority languages spoken in African countries, which impedes effective
use of government services, including education and training. To overcome these
problems the NSW submission recommended that the Commonwealth should:
provide fee-free interpreting to all agencies
providing services to Humanitarian Program entrants during their first two
years of settlement, and generally increase funding to community settlement
services to engage professional interpreters in delivering services; and
develop strategies to recruit more professional
interpreters for African languages into the Commonwealth Translating and Interpreting
Service (TIS), including ways of encouraging more people to become NAATI-qualified.
The Committee commends the government for the provision
of the existing and wide-ranging programs to assist newly arrived entrants
under the humanitarian program. However, the Committee does have some concerns
that the Commonwealth appears to be slow in reacting to the new challenges
presented by the changing demographic make-up of entrants under the Humanitarian
Program. In the last two years, refugees from Africa
represented over 70 per cent of the intake under the Humanitarian Program, and
all indications are that the trend will continue in the foreseeable future.
The States, particularly NSW, presented a strong case
that DIMIA's settlement programs needed to be updated to adequately reflect the
range of unique issues involving refugees from Africa.
While immigration is primarily a Commonwealth
responsibility, the Committee recognises that a whole-of-society approach is
required to make immigration a success. Achieving optimal results requires a good
working partnership between the Commonwealth and State and local governments
and community and charitable organisations.
The committee believes that most Australians fully
support the Government's Humanitarian Program. They recognise the hardship and
suffering experienced by refugees and the difficulties of settling into a new
culture and environment. Australians want to see refugees settled quickly and
as painlessly as possible, so that they can lead full and productive lives.
The committee is persuaded by the evidence it received
that the settlement of refugees from Africa represent
special challenges, which require new and innovative responses. DIMIA needs to
adopt a flexible approach so that is can respond to the special needs of new
refugee groups. DIMIA must work closely with all levels of government and with
community and charitable groups to ensure that these people are settled in
their new country as quickly and comfortably as possible. All reasonable costs
of implementing resettlement programs should be covered by the Commonwealth.
The committee recommends that, in the light of
increasing numbers of refugees from Africa, DIMIA should
reassess its resettlement programs to ensure that services are relevant, and that
sufficient budget appropriation is made to cover all the costs of implementing
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