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.
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.
These figures show that, since 2013-2014, 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 2018-2019, there were 24,566 people seeking asylum other than irregularly by boat, but only 1,650 grants.
The major increase has been in the past three financial years, with an especially large jump between 2016-2017 and 2017-2018.
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, in the past year, China in particular, although there were also 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.
This graph shows the number of applications granted in the past three financial years by country of citizenship.
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.
The overall grant rate, however, is relatively low, at 11%. This is nearly half the rate in 2015-2016, when 32% of people were granted. This reflects the very high number of applications from Malaysia and China, and the very low grant rates for those countries (1% and 4% respectively).
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 of 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 means 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, even if their claim for refugee status is valid.
In 2018-2019 until 28 February 2019, only 773 grants had been made, compared to 16,082 applications in the same time. This graph shows the number of applications for protection visas by plane arrivals which are ‘onhand’ or being processed by the Government, broken down by citizenship.
Delays in processing
This has resulted in people seeking asylum now waiting several years for a decision to be made on their case. In 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.
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 these 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.