On 1 July 2017 the Australian Government introduced the Community Support Program for the 2017-18 financial year. This is the successor to the 2013 Community Proposal Pilot. It was first announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during Barack Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in September 2016.
Prime Minister Turnbull announced that this commitment is “in addition to our existing programme”. However, instead of an additional program that provides alternative pathways to protection, the new proposals in fact take places from within the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, putting the costs back onto the community and businesses who wish to sponsor people to come to Australia. The Community Support Program has been expanded to 1,000 places.
This short brief outlines the program and its costs and impact on communities, and proposes changes to improve the program.
Community Support Program
The Community Support Program (CSP) is a program that makes it possible for people in Australia to support a person in humanitarian need to come to Australia and assist them in their settlement journey.
The program allows individuals, communities or businesses to sponsor potential applicants for humanitarian visas. The proposed individuals must meet the definition of a refugee or a humanitarian entrant (defined as a person living outside their home country and who is subject to substantial discrimination amounting to a gross violation of human rights).
There are many positive aspects to this program. It provides a way for families to be reunited, and a more flexible pathway to resettlement in Australia. It also builds on international commitments to offer ‘alternative pathways to protection‘ for refugee communities and is a clear expression of a commitment to international responsibility sharing.
In the non-binding New York Declaration, adopted by the UN General Assembly at a summit on refugees and migrants in September 2016, States including Australia pledged to “consider making available or expanding, including by encouraging private sector engagement and action as a supplementary measure, resettlement opportunities and complementary pathways for admission of refugees.”
However, there are a number of concerns with the current program, including its high costs, the job-ready criteria and its placement within the existing Refugee and Humanitarian Program.
The costs associated with the scheme are prohibitively high. These include:
- Initial Visa Application Charge (VAC): $2,680
- Second VAC: $16,444 for the primary applicant and $2,680 for each dependent (payable only if applicant successful)
- Assurance of support bond and Bank Guarantee: This differs depending on whether the visa applicant will be supported by an individual or organisation, whether they will be supported for 2 or 10 years, and whether they are accompanied by another adult or children. The bond would be returned once the obligation has been met (ie. the applicant does not access unemployment benefits during the first 12 months). If an applicant does rely on welfare payments during the first 12 months, money will be drawn from the bond with the remainder to return to the proposer.
- Direct support to the successful visa holders: “the proposer also has to meet the costs of airfares, medical screening, on-arrival support such as initial accommodation.”
- Administrative fees for the APO: Each APO’s fees will differ, but fees tend to sit at about $11,000.00
Based on the above, an estimation of the cost to an individual or business to sponsor a family of 5 people (2 adults entering Australia to work + 3 children under ‘working age’) up to their arrival would be:
The program is being advocated as a revenue raising measure in the budget. According to Senate Estimates, the program will raise $26.9 million for the government over the forward estimates. This is due to exorbitant visa application charges and savings associated with the recipients being ineligible for “working age payments,” such as unemployment benefits and settlement support.
Costs of the Community Support Program
While it is envisaged that the private sector will use to program as part of their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility, the previous Community Proposal Pilot was essentially used as a more expensive family reunion pathway for those desperate to get their family members to safety. The high cost of the program advantages those families who can afford it over those who are in greater need. RCOA has heard many concerns of people taking out exorbitant loans in order to cover the costs of this program, often falling into debt with pay-day loans. Many of those consulted felt that the program exploited people's desperation to be reunited with their families.
Further, it is also unlikely that many businesses will invest this much money in order to sponsor people into employment, especially when those business looking to support refugee communities could instead invest their money on supporting people who are already in Australia.
In order to be eligible for the new CSP, the primary applicant must meet the Australian Government's settlement criteria. This will include requirements that the primary applicant:
- Is aged 18-50; and
- Can speak English at a 'functional' level
- Has an offer of employment (or a pathway that leads to employment) or have personal attributes that would enable them to become financially self-sufficient within 12 months of arrival in Australia
- Is from a priority resettlement caseload
This is likely to exclude those who are particularly vulnerable and in particular need of resettlement.
Lack of settlement support
RCOA and our members are especially concerned that arrivals through the CSP won't be eligible for essential settlement services on arrival. During our consultations, many service providers reported instances where people sponsored through the CPP have sought assistance from settlement service providers who have been unable to support them as they are excluded from doing so under their funding grants. We are concerned that this means people may fall further into isolation and destitution, especially in cases of breakdown between the new arrival and the sponsor who may be primarily responsible for their on-arrival needs.
The principle of additionality
The CSP is based off the success of the Canadian private sponsorship scheme, which has resettled over 200,000 refugees since 1978. For 2017, the Canadian Government has set a target of 16,000 privately sponsored refugees, in addition to the 7,500 Government supported refugees. A key proponent of the Canadian program is the principle of 'additionality' – that privately sponsored refugees are in addition to the Government's own commitment.
In our consultations with refugee communities and service providers, many participants felt that the inclusion within the national quota essentially took the responsibility for resettlement away from the Government, rather than being a program which complements the Government's responsibilities. As one participant noted: “it's a way that the government has been able to save money on a program that it already promised to pay for and hasn't actually added any numbers to the overall size of the humanitarian program.”
In order to improve the Community Support Program, the Refugee Council of Australia recommends:
- The implementation of the Community Support Program in 2017-18 be suspended while further consultation and investigation is carried out. The Community Proposal Pilot should continue for the 2017-18 financial year under the existing arrangement.
- The annual quota for the Community Support Program should be separate from the Refugee and Humanitarian Program.
- The costs of the Community Support Program should be substantially reduced, with the assurance of support redesigned to cover the costs of providing settlement support during the first 12 months of arrival in Australia, not the costs associated with income support.
- Restrictions on eligibility relating to a person's 'job readiness' be removed.
- Funding should be made available for support services for people proposed under the Community Support Program in cases of emergency or relationship breakdown.
For more information on the Community Support Program and RCOA’s consultation with community members and service providers, see:
- RCOA’s submission to the 2015 consultation on the Community Support Program
- RCOA's submission on the 2017-18 Refugee and Humanitarian Program
- Private resettlement models offer a way for Australia to lift its refugee intake: The Conversation
- The risks and rewards of private humanitarian and refugee sponsorship: The Interpreter