The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) welcomes the Albanese Government’s long-awaited announcement of its plans to end the cruel and unnecessary policy of temporary protection.
“Today’s announcement from Immigration Minister Andrew Giles is a historic moment, righting almost a decade of an inhumane policy which achieved nothing but untold harm and trauma to people who sought protection in Australia,” RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said.
“The announcement provides much-needed clarity about how the Government plans to implement its 2022 election promise to end temporary protection.
“Refugees subject to the temporary protection policy have been waiting anxiously for more than 10 years for the right to safety and security in Australia. We hope that the process can occur quickly so that people can finally put an end to their ongoing limbo.
“The conversion of temporary protection visas to permanent visas will enable people who have been contributing to Australian society for more than a decade to feel finally that this country is their home. They will no longer be prevented from getting a loan for a home or their business and, most importantly of all, will be able to apply to reunite with separated family members.”
Those who already have a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) will be able to apply for a permanent Resolution of Status (RoS) Visa. Current applications to renew expired TPVs or SHEVs will automatically be converted to ROS visa applications. Those still waiting for a decision will be granted a RoS Visa once their need for refugee protection is determined.
Specialist refugee legal centres will be funded to provide free assistance to those who are eligible to apply for the permanent Resolution of Status Visa. There is no application fee for this visa and there is no need for applicants to pay for private migration advice.
The Government expects that the process of converting temporary protection visas to permanent ones will be concluded in around 12 months.
Once people are granted a RoS Visa, they will be able to apply to sponsor family members through the migration program, as previous barriers to family reunion have also been removed. However, restrictions are still in place for applications through the Special Humanitarian Program.
Refugee community groups and non-profit organisations have been campaigning for the removal of temporary protection visas since the policy’s inception in 2014 under the Liberal-National Coalition government.
The temporary protection policy was applied to anyone who had arrived by boat to seek protection in Australia before 19 July 2013 and had not been given refugee status prior to the change of government in September 2013. Having endured an extended period of immigration detention on arrival, their protection claims were suspended until 2015 while the Abbott Government implemented its temporary protection policy.
Those found to be in need of refugee protection were granted either a three-year Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or a five-year Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV). They had to reapply every few years but faced significant delays. Restrictions on their rights included no possibility of reuniting with their families, no support for tertiary study, limited employment prospects because of their temporary status, travel restrictions, and limited access to disability and other social support.
As of December 2022, there are 19,693 people with temporary refugee status – 5,389 on TPVs and 14,294 on SHEVs. A further 892 people are awaiting an initial decision from the Department of Home Affairs while 845 are seeking a review of a negative decision at the Immigration Assessment Authority. Approximately 5,000 people are seeking judicial review of their negative decision.
“While we celebrate the end of this policy, we are concerned that the announcement today does not provide hope and a clear pathway for those who have been rejected through the unfair ‘fast track process’. For years, Labor MPs and Senators have acknowledged the unfairness of the fast track process, yet this announcement leaves people only with the option of seeking ministerial intervention to prevent forced return to danger.
“This omission will inevitably increase pressure on the ministerial intervention process as many people previously rejected are from countries where the risk of persecution has become more acute in recent years, particularly Afghanistan, Myanmar and Iran.
“The Refugee Council and our member organisations around Australia look forward to working with the Federal Government to ensure that the transition to permanent visas is as smooth as possible and that community concerns about separated families and people still at risk are addressed.”