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Refugees and Special Humanitarian Programs

As with other classes of visa, there are processes and fees associated with offshore and onshore applications.  The two classes are: Offshore – Resettlement, and Onshore – Protection. The visa classes of Temporary Protection Visa and Temporary Humanitarian Visa have been abolished, and there are now mechanisms for resolving the status of those people holding one of these visas. There are minimal fees associated with these visas. Onshore applicants living in the community must pay a $30 visa charge, a nominal fee.

Services provided within Australia for successful applicants include accommodation services, case management, and orientation programs. The orientation programs provide detailed information about life in Australia to help new immigrants settle into Australia. Case workers are also available to help refugees settle into Australia. See the Onshore Booklet for more detailed information.

Australia collects biometric data – meaning, physical information on certain people entering Australia. This only applies to people applying for Protection visas in Australia. A digital photograph and fingerprints will be collected.

The Refugee Convention defines who is a refugee, their rights, and the obligations of states who have signed the Convention. For information on the Refugee Convention, and the text see: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49da0e466.html

Offshore – Resettlement

There are two categories in this visa category: Refugee and Special Humanitarian Program (SHP). Refugee is for people subject to persecution in their home country, and the SHP is for people who are outside their home country, and are proposed for an SHP visa by an Australia citizen, resident, eligible New Zealand citizen, or an organisation operating in Australia. Detailed information is available at: http://www.immi.gov.au/visas/humanitarian/offshore/

There are five categories of Offshore – Resettlement visas available under the Refugee and Humanitarian Visas heading. These are:

  • Refugee Visa (Subclass 200): the three requirements to be eligible for this visa are that the applicant be living outside their home country but not have entered Australia without a visa, be subject to persecution in their home country and have compelling reasons for resettlement to Australia. The application can include a partner/spouse, dependent children and certain dependent relatives. There is no charge for this visa. This is a permanent visa.
  • In-country Special Humanitarian Program Visa (Subclass 201): this visa has limited places. The applicant must be living in their home country (unable to leave or seek refuge elsewhere), and be subject to persecution in their home country.
  • Global Special Humanitarian Program Visa (Subclass 202): this visa class is for people who are not refugees but are subject to substantial discrimination and human rights abuses in their home country. They must be proposed for entry by an Australian citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18, and must be living outside their home country. Partners, dependent children and some dependent relatives can be included in the application. Application is free.
  • Emergency Rescue Visa (Subclass 203): this visa subclass has limited places. The cases are referred to Australia by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). The applicant must be in a situation where normal processing times would put their life or freedom at risk. 
  • Women at Risk Visa (Subclass 204): this visa class is for women. Only women can apply. This visa class has an annual target of 12% of all refugee places. To qualify the applicant must be living outside her home country, subject to persecution in her home country, or registered with the UNHCR as being ‘of concern’, without the protection of a male relative, and in danger of victimisation, harassment or serious abuse because she is female. Dependent children, some relatives, and partner can be included in the application. This is a permanent visa.

Onshore – Protection

This is a highly politicised area of immigration. The controversy stems from the processes associated with the detention of people seeking asylum – including slow processing of applications, and some adverse outcomes that have seen asylum seekers returned to their countries of origin and suffering the persecution, and sometimes death, from which they had sought to escape. The conditions of the detention of asylum seekers have also raised issues as asylum seekers. Detention centres are compounds, surrounded by high, electrified fences, topped and surrounded with razor wire, often in the middle of the desert.

So-called ‘boat people’ is issue that is highly divisive, and there are two very antagonistic points of view on the subject of the processing and detention of so-called “boat people”. The facilities where asylum seekers are detained are run by private companies, not the government, which minimises accountability of staff for treatment of detainees. Detainees are often called by their number, not name, and there have been numerous allegations of abuse. The length of the process is also uncertain, meaning some people will be in detention for several years.

The Australian government does not immediately class people arriving in Australia by boat, without a visa, as refugees. Considering the need for verifying the identity of a person, their health, and the basis of their claims where there is very little paper work available to the immigration authorities, there is little doubt that processing a claim will take some time. The process is of indeterminate length, but the validity of the applications are assessed according to the administrative standards set by DIAC. That said, there have been several examples of Australia rejecting applicants who have arrived in Australia, and sending them back to their home countries, where they were subsequently persecuted afresh, and often killed.

There have been several attempts to speed up the process for applicants in immigration detention. The DIAC website provides a huge amount of information on this subject.

  • Protection Visa (Class XA) (Subclass 866): there are several requirements for eligibility for this visa. The applicant must: be a refugee as defined under the Refugees Convention, be in Australia, pass character and security checks, undergo health examinations, and sign the Australian Values Statement. There are requirements for identification also. This protection visa gives permanent residence to a successful applicant. There is a sharp divide between people in immigration detention and those who have already entered Australia and are seeking protection. The latter category will usually be given a bridging visa whilst their Protection visa is determined, allowing them to work in the community. A good summary is available online.

Bringing family to Australia – refugees

Sometimes, family will be included in the initial visa application – immediate family such as  a spouse and dependents, but there are many migration options for fiances, partners, children, parents and other family members of Australian citizens. This means that the easiest way to obtain visas for family is to become a permanent resident and then an Australian citizen. Once holding a permanent humanitarian visa (including a permanent protection visa) it is possible to apply for immediate family to join you, under the ‘split family’ provisions. Full information is available on the immigration website.

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