In May 2023, RCOA made a submission to the Department of Home Affairs consultation on the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Having provided detailed feedback to the Australian Government on directions for the Refugee and Humanitarian Program through consultation processes each year since 1984 and written submissions each year since 1987, we welcome the opportunity to make a submission on the 2023-24 Humanitarian Program.
We believe that in 2023-24 the Australian Government has the opportunity to restore Australia’s vital role in global resettlement by:
- Expanding the Refugee and Humanitarian Program
- Reorienting the Program towards protection needs and focusing on UNHCR priorities
- Capitalising on Australia’s unique position in 2023-24 in global leadership roles relating to refugee resettlement and complementary migration pathways
- Conducting a formal review of family reunion options, through a co-designed process with communities
- Expanding and extending the Skilled Refugee Labour Agreement and building on the momentum on other complementary pathways
- Replacing the Community Support Program with a genuine community sponsorship model
- Ending the link between the offshore and onshore protection programs and abolishing the cap on onshore places
- Building a Humanitarian Program which works effectively to support solutions for refugees in the Asia-Pacific region
In this submission, we outline our responses, ideas, and recommendations related to the 2023-24 Humanitarian Program and beyond.
Summary of recommendations
Recommendation 1 A strategic Humanitarian Program responsive to international needs
The offshore component of the Humanitarian Program should be responsive to UNHCR-identified global refugee needs and ways that Australia can strategically contribute to protection needs.
Recommendation 2 Using global leadership opportunities to expand durable solutions and champion meaningful refugee participation
The Australian Government should use its global leadership roles in 2023-24 to: champion and support meaningful refugee participation at a national and international level; lead by example by expanding and embedding resettlement and complementary pathways; and reinvigorate global dialogue on the strategic use of resettlement.
Recommendation 3 Progressively expand the Humanitarian Program
The Australian Government should plan to expand Australia’s response to global resettlement needs by progressively increasing the size of the Humanitarian Program, including shift the language from a ceiling to quota to facilitate stronger planning and accountability, and increasing access to complementary pathways through the Skilled and Family streams of the Migration Program.
Recommendation 4 Expand and extend the Skilled Refugee Labour Agreement Pilot
The SRLAP should be expanded to 500 places in 2023-24, progressively expand its size to meet private sector demand, and transition this from a pilot to an established program within the Migration Program within the next four years.
Recommendation 5 Urgently review the situation of Refugee visa-holders whose resettlement has been significantly delayed
The Department of Home Affairs should conduct a review of the situation of all Refugee visa-holders currently overseas whose arrival has been delayed by more than 12 months with a view to renewing efforts to address systemic barriers and developing a targeted communication strategy so that visa-holders understand the status of their case, next steps and the context of travel delays.
Recommendation 6 Ensure that the Program retains its protection focus
The Australian Government must ensure the Humanitarian Program retains its protection focus, selecting refugees and humanitarian entrants based foremost on vulnerability and need, rather than consideration of religion, skills, English language ability or any other attribute.
Recommendation 7 Increase the quota and processing of SHP applications
The Australian Government should increase the Special Humanitarian Program, as part of an overall increase to the Humanitarian Program and increase processing of applications for a SHP visa.
Recommendation 8 Remove restrictions to SHP for proposers who arrived by boat
The Australian Government should urgently remove restrictions to the Special Humanitarian Program for proposers who arrived by boat, including those recently granted a Resolution of Status Visa.
Recommendation 9 Abolish processing priorities which place boat arrivals at the lowest priority
The Department of Home Affairs should remove the processing priorities under the SHP policy which place boat arrivals at the lowest priority.
Recommendation 10 Increase Processing for the In Country Special Humanitarian Visas
The Department of Home Affairs should increase processing and support for people to utilise the In Country Special Humanitarian Visa, especially for those in Afghanistan.
Recommendation 11 Formalise resettlement pilots
The Department of Home Affairs should conduct a review of the Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors Pilot and the LGBTQI Pilot, with the view to formalising these programs as an ongoing part of the Humanitarian Program.
Recommendation 12 End the Community Support Program
The Community Support Program should be wound up. Existing arrivals and applications should continue to be supported until they have finished the first 12 months since arrival in Australia. Future sponsorship applications should be directed to an expanded Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot.
Recommendation 13 Include named applicants in the Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot
The Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot should be expanded to include ‘named’ or ‘linked’ applicants, to enable people to sponsor specific refugees at risk overseas. Given the importance of generating broad community support for CRISP, the ‘named’ cohort should be approached flexibly in relation to the numerical percentage within the overall program. Modest fees to offset the costs to government for named applications should be considered.
Recommendation 14 Expand and make the Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot additional to the Humanitarian Program
In line with the ALP National Platform, the CRISP should be progressively expanded to 5,000 places by 2025-26. From 2023-24, any visas granted in the CRISP should be additional to the Humanitarian Program.
Recommendation 15 Conduct a review of Family Reunion for Refugees
The Department of Home Affairs should urgently conduct a review of family reunion for refugees, to inform reforms of the current system, and develop a co-design process that is inclusive of refugee community members and civil society organisations specialising in support for people experiencing forced migration.
Recommendation 16 Establish a special team within the Migration Program division
The Department of Home Affairs should establish a special team within the Migration Program division to develop expertise to process and prioritise family visas from refugees.
Recommendation 17 Introduce concessions for refugee family reunion through the Migration Program
The Department of Home Affairs should introduce concessions in the Family Stream of the Migration Program for those from refugee backgrounds, to ensure that the program remains accessible for refugees. These include flexibility around documentation, health assessments, security clearances and biometric tests. Further, the Department should introduce concession rates on visa charges for refugees utilising the Migration Program.
Recommendation 18 Separate the onshore and offshore components of the Program
The Australian Government should break the link between the onshore component of the Humanitarian Program from the offshore component, in line with practice in all other resettlement countries in the world.
Recommendation 19 Removal of cap or target on the number of onshore visas
The Australian Government should remove any cap or target – officially or informally – on the number of onshore refugee visas granted.
Recommendation 20 Expand eligibility criteria of the SRSS Program
The Minister for Immigration should give direction to the Department of Home Affairs to expand the eligibility criteria for the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) Program to support people to resolve their immigration status. This includes:
• Ensuring people have a valid bridging visa with associated work and study rights and linked to Medicare while they await decisions on their protection application, including by automating the bridging renewal process;
• Extending SRSS eligibility criteria to focus on the needs and vulnerabilities of individuals and families so that it prevents destitution. This is a shift from eligibility that focuses on job readiness;
• Ensuring eligibility criteria and processes are clear and transparent for individuals applying, unfunded agencies supporting them, and contracted SRSS providers, and
• Expanding the use of emergency approvals as a stop gap for when people are in emergency situations and need support in order to make a full SRSS application.
Recommendation 21 Release the model used to cost the Humanitarian Program
The Australian Government should release the model it uses to cost the Humanitarian Program. After clarifying this process, the Government should consider how to incorporate community feedback about that process and its assumptions, including how the model can be inclusive of the benefits to Australia and the contributions that people coming through the Program make to Australia.
Recommendation 22 Convene a forum to advance a whole-of-government integrated response to displacement
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government convene a forum with NGOs, refugee-led organisations, peak bodies, intergovernmental bodies and other relevant stakeholders to advance the development of an integrated and strategic response to displacement, including consideration of the roles of aid, diplomacy, capacity-building and the strategic use of resettlement.
Recommendation 23 Provide refugees with subsidies to assist with the cost of private rental in the initial settlement period
Rental subsidies should be provided to the refugees who rent privately in the first 12-24 months of their settlement in Australia. This will give new arrivals more time to work towards successful settlement and better capacity to compete in the rental market at the end of the period.