Refugee Council of Australia
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Statistics on people seeking asylum in the community

People seeking asylum by boat

People who seek asylum by boat are treated differently from those who come by plane. People who come by plane usually live in the community on the same visa conditions as those with which they arrived while they are waiting.

However, people who seek asylum by boat are required by law to be detained. They can only live in the community if the government decides to release them. This decision is almost entirely up to the government.

Australia’s mandatory detention policies

Some people are released into what is usually called ‘community detention’, if the Minister makes a ‘residence determination’. This means they live in housing specified by the government, with restrictions on their movement. Our statistics on detention include people in this group.

Statistics on people in detention in Australia

However, for the past few years, most people seeking asylum by boat have been living in the community on a visa called a bridging visa E (BVE). Unlike those in community detention, this group can live in the community freely, but do not receive any housing and very limited support.

This graph shows the number of people seeking asylum in the community by visa status.

Between 25 November 2011 and 30 June 2021, 37,473 people who sought asylum by boat were given bridging visa E. As of 30 June 2021, 11,891 of these people were still in the community (9,610 on a bridging visa E and the other 2,281 waiting for a further BVE). The rest of the people, which amounts to 25,582 people, were either granted a substantive visa, left Australia, detained or deceased. This data is illustrated in the graph below.

People in the community who are waiting for the grant of further Bridging Visa E do not have rights to work, study or access Medicare, because they do not hold a valid visa. This often happens because of delays in renewing a visa. In some cases, their visas can only be renewed after the Minister personally allows for the grant of a further visa.

The graph below shows the numbers of people on bridging visas E over time.

In an answer to a question on notice, the Department stated as of 31 August 2020, a total of 21,404 people held bridging visas E with work rights.

The Government has also introduced the so-called ‘final departure bridging visas’. These visas are for people who have been transferred from offshore processing countries who are released into the community, but do not have any income support, housing or other support. The statistics relevant to this group are updated in our offshore processing statistics.

Offshore processing statistics

Where are they living?

This graph shows where people with a bridging visa E were living in Australia at the end of March 2021.

This graph shows where people with a bridging visa E have lived over time. The decreasing numbers is mostly due to changes in status, as people on bridging visas E have been granted temporary protection visas or, in some cases, have left Australia.

The more frequently updated fast-tracking statistics also break down the numbers of people living in different states or territories. However, it focuses on a smaller group of people known as the ‘Legacy Caseload’, so the numbers do not match. These statistics also show where people who have been granted temporary protection live.

Fast-tracking statistics

The following pages show statistics, by state and territory, of people who came seeking asylum by boat and who are living in our community on a Bridging E Visa (including those waiting for a grant of a new Bridging E visa).

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