While refugee communities have welcomed Senate’s rejection of the Minister for Immigration’s proposed changes to the Citizenship Act, people waiting for citizenship are still facing significant delays in the processing of their applications. A backlog now confronts all applicants, with those from refugee backgrounds continuing to wait much longer.
The Department of Immigration’s Annual Report for 2016-17 highlights that they are failing to meet their service standards of processing applications within 80 days. Last year, 222,000 applications for citizenship were lodged, with only 45% of applications for citizenship by conferral processed within the Department’s service standards. 90% of people who acquired citizenship by conferral in 2016–17 did so within 11 months of lodging their applications.
For refugees, this waiting period increases significantly. Recently obtained Freedom of Information requests show that a majority of applicants from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq are still waiting after submitting applications in 2015 and 2016.
For applicants from Afghanistan who lodged in 2016, only 21% have had a decision on their application by 21 June 2017, while only 37% of applicants from Afghanistan who lodged their application in 2015 have received a decision.
RCOA’s own research shows that 92% of people from refugee backgrounds are experiencing delays greater than 6 months, with the average waiting time over 16 months. Two-thirds of those surveyed have been waiting over a year, while 13% (120 people) have been waiting over two years.
Last year, the Federal Court held that a delay of more than three months is not justifiable simply because the cases are considered “complex” and that a failure to make a decision within this time in unreasonable. Justice Bromberg also found that “absence of resources is not in general an excuse for maladministration”, and the Department cannot simply claim they are understaffed.
Despite the Federal Court’s decision in this case, people from refugee backgrounds continue to face unreasonably lengthy delays before receiving any decision, denying those waiting in Australia the basic rights to stability, security and family reunion.
This backlog is likely to have been made worse with the Department freezing all applications since 20 April this year, creating a backlog of over 120,000 applications. While citizenshpi applications are now being processed again, it is unclear if the Department has allocated additional staff to fix this backlog.
The Department of Immigration needs to urgently allocate more resources to process citizenship applications. Not only is this legally required, but it is vital to ensure those who have fled their homes can now make Australia their new home.