Refugee Council of Australia
Green mural of figures jumping saying refugees and asylum seekers welcome

Statistics on people seeking asylum in the community

People seeking asylum by plane

People can claim asylum after they have come to Australia on a valid visa – for example, as a student or tourist. This may happen because circumstances in their home country change while they are in Australia, or because they come to Australia intending to seek asylum, as there is no visa that allows them to claim asylum before they come to Australia.

How many people are seeking asylum by plane?

The first graph shows the number of people claiming asylum after arriving by plane for the past few years as provided to the Senate in August 2019.

Line chart showing number of people claiming asylum by financial year

This second graph combines data from the Department’s reporting of its Onshore Humanitarian Program report, as well as through Senate Estimates. This data is similar, but includes other protection visa claims (for example, lawful arrivals by boat), and also includes the number of visas granted.

Line chart showing protection visa claims by financial year

These figures show that, since 2014-2015, the numbers of people seeking asylum by plane has jumped, but the number of those granted protection visas (granted refugee status, after merits review) has declined during the same period. In 2019-2020, there were 23,266 people seeking asylum other than irregularly by boat, but only 1,650 grants.

This third graph tracks the number of lodgments made every month since November 2019. It also includes the numbers of decisions made on refugee status each month, including the numbers granted protection and the numbers not granted protection. As can be seen, the number of lodgments each month is much higher than the number of decisions made, and relatively few people are granted protection.



Where do they come from?

The major increase since 2016-2017 appears to be largely the result of an increase in numbers from Malaysia and China, although there have also been significant increases in applications from other countries such as India and Vietnam.

The number of asylum claims reflects, in part, the ability of citizens of certain countries to enter Australia on valid visas. For example, there are large numbers of Malaysians and Chinese international students, and considerable skilled migration from India. The top 10 nationalities of those who seek asylum by plane are quite different from those who come by boat, with many more from our surrounding Asia-Pacific neighbours. In the past five years, the main nationalities seeking asylum by plane include those from China, Malaysia, India, Pakistan and Vietnam.

This graph shows the number of applications lodged by country of citizenship.

Stacked column chart showing asylum claims by citizenship

This graph shows the number of applications granted in the past three financial years by country of citizenship.

Stacked column chart showing grants by financial year

This graph shows the number of applications made by country of origin since monthly reporting began in November 2019. This reflects the total from 1 November 2019 to 31 December 2020 and, given the number of countries, excludes countries with less than 50 applications. The graph also includes the average grant rate during this period for each country, which varies significantly. As can be seen, the grant rate for several countries with higher numbers of applications is very low, which decreases significantly the overall grant rate.

Combined chart showing lodgments and grant rate by nationality


Who are they?

The monthly reports now break down, for the first time, the number of applications by age and gender, including the numbers granted and refused protection. The highest number of applications are made by people between the age of 25-34, with the bulk of applications coming from those between 15-55. More applications are made by men than women, across all age groups.

Clustered column graph showing lodgments by age and gender over time

Are they ‘genuine’ refugees?

This graph show the grant rate – the percentage who were granted a visa, compared to those who were refused. There is considerable variation in grant rates by country of citizenship, with very high rates for some countries. Typically, however, there are relatively few arrivals from these countries, because of the difficulty of getting a visa to Australia from these countries.

Line chart showing grant rate by financial year

The overall grant rate, however, is relatively low, around 10%. This is nearly half the rate in 2015-2016, when 32% of people were granted a visa. This reflects the very high number of applications from Malaysia and China, and the very low grant rates for those countries.

The monthly statistics show that this overall grant rate appears to be declining. The monthly statistics also now report on the rate of people being deported in this group, which is consistently less than 1%.

Line chart showing grant and deportation rateAs noted earlier, the overall grant rate, however, hides very significant variation between grants by country of origin.

The monthly statistics also now show the grant rate by age group. Although most applications are made by people between 15-55, the grant rates are significantly higher for the children and older people.

Combined chart showing grants by age and gender

The gap between grants and lodgements

It is important to note that the gap between the numbers lodged, and the numbers granted, does not necessarily mean that all the applications which were not granted were refused. Under changes to the law made in 2014, the Minister for Immigration can now place a ‘cap’ on protection visas issued to refugees in any year. This does not apply to temporary protection visas, but affects people seeking asylum by plane. Using this power, the Minister has capped for each year the combined number of visas for people seeking asylum by plane (Protection visas) together with visas available under our offshore humanitarian program (that is, the resettlement of refugees) . The effect of this is that, once this overall number has been granted for the year, even if a person is recognised as a refugee in Australia they cannot be granted a visa until the following year.

This graph shows the number of applications for protection visas by plane arrivals which are ‘on hand’ or being processed by the Government, broken down by citizenship.

Bar chart showing onhand applications by non-IMAs

Delays in processing

This has resulted in people seeking asylum now waiting several years for a decision to be made on their case. The monthly statistics reveal that nearly 40,000 are still waiting for decisions. Even more people are still in the country awaiting deportation after a negative decision.

Line chart showing numbers waiting for decision or deportationIn the financial year 2017-2018, it was taking an average of 231 days for the Department to make its decision.

This is made worse by the fact that times for decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which reviews the Department’s decisions, have significantly increased in the past year. In 2017-2018, only 41% of refugee cases were finalised by the Tribunal within a year, with the median time for decision 61 weeks.

Read more about the challenges faced by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal

What happens while they are seeking asylum?

During this time, the general practice is that these people live on bridging visas which typically include the same conditions as the visa on which they came to Australia. For international students and tourist visas, this means that people do not have access to Medicare for years, and may not have the right to work in Australia. Their lack of permanent status also creates many other problems, such as difficulty accessing women’s refuges.

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