The offshore component of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program is designed for people outside Australia who are in need of humanitarian resettlement. The offshore program has two categories:

The Refugee category for people subject to persecution in their country of origin and who are refugees as defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention; and

The Special Humanitarian Program category for people who, while not being refugees, are subject to substantial discrimination amounting to a gross violation of their human rights in their country of origin.

The Refugee Program

Refugee Program visas are for people who are subject to persecution in their home country and who are in need of resettlement. The majority of applicants who are considered under this category are identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and referred to the Australian Government by the UNHCR. There are four subclasses within the Refugee Program:

Refugee Visa (Subclass 200), for people who are subject to persecution in their country of origin and are in need of resettlement.

In-country Special Humanitarian Program Visa (Subclass 201), which offers resettlement to people who have suffered persecution in their country of origin and who have not been able to leave that country to seek refuge elsewhere.

Emergency Rescue Visa (Subclass 203), which offers an accelerated processing arrangement for people who satisfy refugee criteria and whose lives or freedom depend on urgent resettlement.

Woman at Risk Visa (Subclass 204), for female applicants and their dependents who are subject to persecution or are of concern to UNHCR, are living outside their home country without the protection of a male relative and are in danger of victimisation, harassment or serious abuse because of their gender.

The current size of the Refugee Program is 6,000 places, at least 12 per cent of which are dedicated to the Woman at Risk program.

The Special Humanitarian Program

The SHP category (subclass 202) is for people who, while not being refugees according to the definition in the 1951 Refugee Convention, are subject to substantial discrimination amounting to a gross violation of their human rights in their country of origin. They must be living outside their home country and have “compelling reasons” to resettle in Australia. The “compelling reasons” criteria assess the degree of discrimination or persecution faced by the applicant in their home country, the extent of their connection to Australia, their protection options elsewhere and Australia’s capacity to provide for their permanent settlement.

People who wish to be considered for a SHP visa must be proposed for entry by an Australian citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18, an eligible New Zealand citizen or an organisation operating in Australia. Successful applicants under the SHP or their proposer must pay for the applicant to travel to Australia and the proposer is expected to assist in the settlement of the applicant.

Under changes introduced in September 2012, people who arrive(d) by boat on or after 13 August 2012 are no longer eligible for the SHP.

Currently, around 5,000 places are available under the SHP each year.

‘Split family’ provisions

The Refugee Program and SHP have “split family” provisions which allow humanitarian visa holders to sponsor immediate their family members (i.e. their partner and dependent children or, if the proposer is an unaccompanied minor, their parents) for resettlement in Australia.

Generally, visas for immediate family members are granted in the same category as the proposer’s visa. For example, immediate family members of a proposer who was resettled in Australia on a Refugee Visa (subclass 200) will also be granted a Refugee visa. The main exception is Protection Visa holders, whose immediate family members will be granted an SHP visa.

Until recently, applications for SHP visas lodged by refugees and humanitarian entrants sponsoring immediate family members under the “split family” provisions did not have to satisfy all of the “compelling reasons” criteria. The only criterion considered was the extent of the applicant’s connection to Australia. Under changes introduced in September 2012, all Protection and Resolution of Status visa holders who arrived before 13 August 2012 (excluding unaccompanied minors) and who are seeking to sponsor immediate family members under the “split family” provisions of the SHP will now have to meet all of the “compelling reasons” criteria.

Applying for offshore visas

Information on applying for offshore humanitarian visas, including forms and eligibility requirements, can be found on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s website.

After an application is lodged, an acknowledgment of receipt will be sent to the applicant (and, in the case of 202 visas, the proposer). Applications that are assessed as eligible for further processing are referred for interview and further assessment. All refugee and humanitarian applicants referred for further processing are required to be interviewed by an Australian immigration officer.

Applicants and their dependent family members must meet health and character requirements in order to be granted a visa for Australia.

Why do we have a planned refugee resettlement program?

The Refugee component of the Australian Humanitarian Program is motivated by the recognition that a balanced response to the world’s refugee problems requires that provision of resettlement places for Convention refugees be part of that response.

UNHCR estimates the number of refugees in need of resettlement in 2013 at more than 850,000 people, while the total number of resettlement places offered annually around the world is around 85,000. Australia has allocated 12,000 places UNHCR’s resettlement program for the 2012-13 financial year, plus additional places through the SHP. Continuing to offer resettlement places – particularly through a multi-year planned program – represents Australia’s contribution to providing solutions to what is a global problem and contributes to Australia’s international standing as a country committed to upholding human rights and humanitarian values.

Furthermore, as one of the few countries of the world with an active immigration program, there is an expectation that Australia allocate places for refugees as well as migrants. In other words, the refugee program enables Australia to play its part as a responsible member of the international community and to derive recognition for this contribution from other states.

The SHP is driven not so much by an international imperative but by the desire of community groups and individuals in Australia to make a tangible contribution towards assisting members of their communities in difficult circumstances overseas, particularly those who may not have access to UNHCR’s resettlement processes.