Urgent changes needed to ‘unfair, expensive’ refugee visas

Since 2012, 31,000 asylum seekers in Australia have lived in a state of uncertainty.

UniSA academics have called for 31,000 refugees “living in a state of damaging uncertainty” in Australia over the past decade to be granted permanent protection visas.

In a new policy brief announced today, commissioned by UNSW’s Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UniSA PhD candidate and Murdoch University Associate Professor Mary Anne Kenny, Professor Nicholas Procter and Emeritus Professor Carol Grech argue that temporary protection visas are “unfair, expensive, impractical and inconsistent” with international obligations.

The report authors say that refugees who arrived in Australia by boat to seek asylum in 2012-2014, have either been granted Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) or Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs), which allow them to work but not to reunite with family or to travel freely.

“The rest live on precarious short-term bridging visas, some without the right to work and many without access to income support, adding to the trauma they have already suffered,” Prof Procter says.

The policy brief makes 17 recommendations to resolve the legal status of refugees and asylum seekers so they can settle into Australia and make a “valuable contribution to the country”.

Assoc Prof Mary Kenny says requiring refugees to re-apply for protection every few years is not only traumatic for them, but it also costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

“With a permanent visa, people in the ‘legacy caseload’ would no longer be held back. They could qualify for Commonwealth-supported places at university, they would have better job prospects, could take out business loans or mortgages and feel like they belong,” says Assoc Prof Mary Kenny.

“Most importantly, they would be able to see their family abroad, and under our recommendations, their applications for family members to join them in Australia would be prioritised.

“These reforms enable everyone to move forward and live their lives to the full,” she says.

The key recommendations are:

  • Refugees on TPVs and SHEVs should be moved onto permanent visas. People who have not yet been assessed or who have previously been refused protection should also be able to apply for a permanent visa that does not require another assessment of their protection claims.
  • Trauma and rejection have featured strongly in the lives of many refugees and asylum seekers. As such a trauma informed strategy is important to reduce mental distress and deterioration among this group of asylum seekers. The policy brief recommends provision of legal, social and mental health services and support both before and after permanent visas are granted.
  • Travel is essential for re-establishing links to separated family. The policy brief recommends removing the restrictions on travel for TPV- and SHEV-holders pending the grant of a permanent visa and includes specific recommendations in relation to travel documents.
  • The granting of permanent visas allows individuals to begin the process of family reunion through the family or humanitarian programs. The policy brief recommends removing current policies that relegate sponsors who arrived in Australia by boat or who hold Resolution of Status visas to the ‘lowest processing priority’.
  • Prolonged family separation means that family reunion should be prioritised. The policy brief recommends the establishment of a specialised team within the Department of Home Affairs to work closely with relevant migration agent/lawyer peak bodies, community legal centres, and refugee communities to identify priority actions to manage and progress visas for family overseas and to also identify policy and legislative reform options for close relatives and children who may not fall within the current definition of ‘member of a family unit’.

The policy brief is available at: Temporary Protection Visas in Australia: A reform proposal

Notes for editors

Associate Professor Mary Anne Kenny is based at the School of Law, Murdoch University, and is also a legal practitioner working closely with refugee NGOs and refugee communities.

Professor Nicholas Procter is the Director, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Research and Education Group, Clinical and Health Sciences, University of South Australia.

Emeritus Professor Carol Grech, University of South Australia, has had a long and distinguished professional career as a registered nurse, academic and researcher.

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