The Australian government is going to grant permanent visas to thousands of refugees currently residing in Australia on a temporary visa. This new scheme entered into force on 20 February 2023. The scheme does not apply to travellers who are staying in the country on a temporary travel authorisation, such as the eVisitor visa Australia.
New scheme granting permanent visas to refugees
Since Monday 20 February 2023, thousands of refugees currently residing in Australia on a temporary visa have been eligible for a permanent visa. These include the approximately 19,000 refugees who arrived in Australia before the introduction of Operation Sovereign Borders. They are currently staying in Australia on a temporary visa. The border control program was set up in 2013, partly with the aim of preventing the arrival of asylum seekers by sea. Other aims of the program are to protect Australia’s borders and combat human trafficking.
In addition to the implementation of this new scheme, two temporary visas will be abolished. These are two visas that have been described as cruel by many human rights organisations, namely the Protection and Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) and the Temporary Protection Visa (TVP).
What does a permanent visa entitle you to?
Everyone who, according to the new requirements, is entitled to a permanent visa is awarded the same rights as permanent Australian inhabitants. For example, they are immediately eligible for social benefits; they are entitled to assistance from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS); and they are entitled to financial support for access to higher education. They can also become Australian citizens once they meet the corresponding requirements. Once they become Australian citizens, they have the possibility of sponsoring family members so that they can come and live in Australia as well.
Controversy about Operation Sovereign Borders
The border control program Operation Sovereign Borders allows the Australian military to intervene militarily if asylum seekers try to enter Australia by sea in order to apply for asylum there. To do so, they use the ‘tow back’ principle. This means that every intercepted vessel with asylum seekers is towed back to the port of origin. In most cases, this is Indonesia. In other cases, asylum seekers were brought to an offshore detention centre to await their asylum procedure. These detention centres were located on Nauru, an island in the Pacific Ocean and in Papua New Guinea, among others. Since the introduction of the border control program, every Australian government has confirmed that not a single asylum seeker who tries to reach Australia by boat can settle in the country.
Bad circumstances in detention centres
The Australian immigration policy, which includes the detention centres, has long been a controversial topic. The main reason for this is the deplorable living conditions. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Australia is violating human rights with this program. The organisation believes that every refugee has a right to an honest and individual asylum procedure, which is currently not the case.
Criticism from within Australia
Even from within Australia, there is a lot of criticism of the border control program. One of the reasons for this is that little information is published about the content of the operations that are executed. This mainly applies to sending back boats with refugees. Also, little is brought out about the actions of the Australian government in terms of criminal liability regarding the events at offshore detention centres.
To date, since 2013, more than 3,100 refugees have been sent to offshore detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea under the program. Of these, only about 1,100 were eventually allowed to temporarily settle in Australia to await their visa procedures. This group of people, who currently have temporary residence status in Australia, is also possibly eligible for a permanent visa.
Thousands of applications awaiting approval
At the moment, nearly 5,000 applications for temporary visas are being assessed or vetted by a judge. The Australian government emphasised that they will continue to maintain the same visa procedure as before. In addition, the government states that everyone who seems to meet the requirements for a temporary visa is automatically eligible for a permanent visa.
Electronic application forms will be widely available in March 2023. Before this happens, the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is first going to invite people with an almost expired temporary visa to apply for a permanent visa.
On holiday to Australia? Apply for an eVisitor first
Travellers who only travel to Australia for tourism purposes do not require a permanent residence permit. Instead, they can apply for an eVisitor visa. The eVisitor visa for Australia is a simple way for British and Irish travellers to meet the visa requirement for Australia. The eVisitor visa is suitable for tourist or business travel and can be used for an unlimited number of trips to Australia during its 1-year validity. For each separate stay in Australia, a maximum duration of stay of three months.