Refugee Council of Australia
Family reunion still evades refugees like Nithi Kanakarathinam, seen here with his wife at their cultural wedding ceremony in January 2023.
Home > News > Family reunion still out of reach for refugees granted permanent visas

Family reunion still out of reach for refugees granted permanent visas

Many Australians have welcomed the end of the cruel and unnecessary policy of temporary protection. But even with a permanent visa, there’s still a vast chasm between refugees and the families they left behind.

After years of uncertainty, the government’s move to grant permanent visas means that thousands of refugees finally have hope of laying down roots in Australia. They can also get a loan, attend university without paying international student fees upfront, and access options for family reunion.

The Department of Home Affairs has committed to transitioning over 19,000 people holding Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs) to a permanent visa by February 2024.

So far, only about 35% of people have had their SHEV visa or TPV converted to a permanent Resolution of Status (RoS) visa. Unfortunately, around 10,000 people are excluded from this process altogether, including:

  • 1,500 people who are still waiting to be assessed as refugees
  • 600 people whose refugee claims are under review by the Immigration Assessment Authority
  • 5,000 people who are challenging their refusal in the federal courts
  • Those seeking ministerial intervention

These people have had their claims rejected through the FastTrack system, a process the Australian Labor Party (ALP) admits “does not provide a fair, thorough and robust assessment process for persons seeking asylum.”

After more than a decade of separation, even a RoS visa doesn’t guarantee that refugees can reunite with their loved ones. People like Nithi Kanakarathinam still face many barriers in bringing family members to Australia.

Family reunion
Nithi Kanakarathinam and his wife, Jano Pakkiyarasa at their cultural wedding ceremony in January 2023. Image supplied by Nithi Kanakarathinam.

Nithi is a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee who came to Australia by boat in 2012. After over a decade on temporary visas, Nithi was finally able to transition to an RoS visa in June 2023. But his partner remains in Sri Lanka.

Most refugees rely on the overloaded Special Humanitarian Program to sponsor their family members to come to Australia. At present, it will take more than 13 years to complete the current backlog of applications – and more are being submitted every week.

Unfairly, this program isn’t available for refugees, like Nithi, who arrived by boat, even former TPV and SHEV holders. Instead, they must rely on the complex and expensive Migration Program.

Sponsoring a family of 3 through this program costs the family around $22,000 in visa charges and other expenses, including biometric tests, police checks and a range of other documents, which can be difficult for those fleeing war-torn countries to provide.

Children over 23 are also no longer considered dependent under this program, meaning they can’t be included in the same application as their family. This can force many families into making the heartbreaking decision to leave their older children behind – often in unsafe conditions. In many cases, children who were very young when their parents left home to find safety in Australia “age out” of the process over many years of forced separation.

It makes me upset that some people get visas, and some don’t. They need it just as much as I do. They have been working, paying their taxes, being compliant – they should be treated with humanity. – Nithi Kanakarathinam

Thanks to people like you, RCOA can continue calling for reforms to the family reunion system. With your support, we’re advocating for reduced costs, greater flexibility around documentation and the removal of barriers that prevent family members from being reunited.

Together, we can urge the Australian Government to introduce concessions that grant refugees better access to the Migration Program, and expand the Humanitarian Program to include all refugees.

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