Even if people who came by boat are found to be refugees, they would only get temporary protection. Unlike the first time under John Howard, the temporary protection rule would last forever, so that they would need to reapply until the end of their lives.
This policy was reintroduced by the current Australian Government and was made law in 2014. The law applies, however, to all people seeking asylum who had not been given a permanent visa, even if they arrived before the law changed.
There are now two types of temporary visas for refugees who arrived without valid visas: temporary protection visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs). The main differences between the TPVs and the SHEVs are:
- a TPV gives a refugee protection for three years and a SHEV for five years
- a person with a TPV cannot apply for any kind of permanent visa and a person with a SHEV can apply for a permanent migration visa (but not a permanent protection visa).
TPV and SHEV holders can work, get Medicare, and get some social support payments through Centrelink payments. However, they cannot sponsor family members to come and live with them in Australia, and they cannot leave and return to Australia without permission. Even if they live in Australia all their lives, they cannot get the same services and supports that others can – for example, they cannot get government-funded financial assistance for further education.
To get to apply for a permanent visa after the five years, a person holding a SHEV must meet other conditions, including working or studying in a particular regional area for 3½ years and not getting certain types of social support payments. Even then, they must meet all the conditions for the permanent migration visa (for example, a partner or an employment visa), because they cannot apply for a permanent protection visa.
Temporary protection visas were first introduced in Australia in 1999, and abolished in 2008. Under this policy, refugees who arrived without authorisation were only granted protection for three years. After this, they had to reapply for protection. Most TPV holders came from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq where there was no prospect for safe return in the foreseeable future. Around 90% of TPV holders were granted permanent protection when their claims were later reassessed.
The TPV policy had an extremely damaging impact on refugees. TPV holders were unable to apply for family reunion, did not receive adequate settlement assistance (for example, they were ineligible for the free English language classes available to other humanitarian entrants) and were deprived of the stability and security of permanent protection. The psychological damage caused by TPVs due to these factors has been well documented by medical experts.
There is also evidence to suggest that TPVs actually encouraged some people seeking asylum to undertake risky journeys to Australia. Because TPV holders could not apply for family reunion, some of their family members facing persecution overseas – the majority of whom were women and children – were driven to undertake the same dangerous journey to Australia. After TPVs were introduced, the proportion of women and children amongst people seeking asylum arriving by boat increased from around 25 per cent to around 40 per cent. Among the 353 people killed when the unauthorised vessel SIEV X sank in 2001 were 142 women and 146 children, several of whom were attempting to reunite with husbands and fathers already in Australia on TPVs.
Between 1999 and 2007, there were 11,206 grants of TPVs and 95% of these eventually got permanent protection. The rest were given permanent protection when TPVs were abolished in 2008.
In 2013, the Australian Government tried to reintroduce temporary protection visas through regulations but this was stopped by the Australian Parliament. In December 2014, the law was changed to create TPVs and SHEVS.
What’s wrong with temporary protection?
This policy means that refugees cannot get the thing they most need to heal, a sense of safety. They are forced to live in fear that, the next time they apply, they may be rejected and may have to leave Australia. There is strong evidence that this uncertainty contributes to mental illness, especially among children and young people who cannot plan for a stable future.
Family and settling
People who hold temporary protection visas will never be able to reunite with their family. This makes life very difficult for those who fear what will happen to their family, and makes it very difficult for people to settle into a new life.
Never quite one of us
Temporary protection also condemns them to being second-class citizens in Australia for the rest of their lives. People who hold temporary protection visas do not, even if they live here for the rest of their lives, have the same rights and access to services as the rest of us.
Australia’s social security system is largely built upon the distinction between temporary and permanent residence. Most government programs and entitlements are not available to people considered temporary. For example, this applies to access to tertiary education subsidies and payments, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and most forms of social security benefits. The only income support these people can receive is Special Benefit, which is a stopgap benefit for the most vulnerable. However, it is not designed to sustain people in the long term, and (for example) once a person unrolls in full-time study, they will lose access to that income support. This creates a real dilemma for those wishing to study, even if they are offered full scholarships.
As temporary residents, they cannot become citizens, or vote. They do not have the same rights to our social support system, even though they are more vulnerable than most of us. This discrimination makes it very hard for them to integrate into Australian society.
A waste of time and effort
Temporary protection is a waste of time and resources. It means people have their claims reassessed again every three to five years, even if nothing has changed in their home country. That drains government resources and makes it very difficult for refugees, who have to prove themselves again and again.