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Joint submission on complementary pathways for refugees and the future of Australia’s migration system

This joint submission in response to the Migration system for Australia’s future​ discussion paper was drafted and endorsed by a coalition of organisations committed to extending access to safe and durable migration pathways for refugees and others in humanitarian need beyond Australia’s long-standing commitment to refugee resettlement.

Complementary pathways for refugees

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), complementary pathways are ‘safe and regulated avenues for persons in need of international protection that provide for a lawful stay in a third country where the international protection needs of the beneficiaries are met’.[1]  Complementary pathways recognise the importance of ensuring refugee resettlement programs remain focused on providing solutions to refugees with the greatest needs and in cooperation with other international protection actors, but that there are other migration solutions that can provide additional pathways or capacities to provide long-term safety to refugees.

Examples of complementary pathways include labour mobility programs, education pathways, family reunion and community sponsorship programs.

While durable solutions should be the key objective for complementary pathways, they offer many collateral benefits to receiving countries including:

  • a way for non-traditional actors to become involved in a ‘whole of society’ approach;
  • greater public awareness of and support for the provision of managed humanitarian migration pathways, as more actors become sensitised to refugee issues and experiences through their involvement in complementary pathways;
  • enhanced social capital for refugee newcomers with members of the Australian community, including private individuals, community associations/networks, clubs and businesses;
  • enhanced social cohesion; and
  • the potential for diversifying settlement locations within a receiving state.

What challenges and opportunities does Australia face in the coming decades?

There is a critical global need for more durable solutions for refugees. At the end of 2021 there were 27.1 million refugees in the world.[2] In 2021, only 57,436 refugees were resettled globally; less than 0.2% of all refugees. For 2023, UNHCR has identified over 2 million refugees in need of resettlement.[3]

Refugees and others in humanitarian need have relevant skills, educational and employment aspirations and families in Australia that make complementary pathways relevant. Many would not be considered among priority groups for scarce resettlement places, but still have a strong need for a durable solution.

There are systemic barriers preventing refugees seeking to migrate for employment, educational or family reunion purposes from accessing existing migration pathways. Barriers include: the inability to acquire required documentation (e.g. police checks, passports), inability to meet the ‘genuine temporary entrant’ criteria for a temporary visa to enter Australia (e.g. international student visas), and the prohibitively high costs associated with alternative migration pathways.

How can migration contribute to these challenges and opportunities?

Pilot programs such as the Skilled Refugee Labour Agreement Pilot (SRLAP) and Community Refugee Settlement and Integration Pilot (CRISP) have provided proof of concept that complementary pathways are viable and systemic barriers can be addressed. Lessons from these pilots can be taken into consideration to design and unlock complementary pathways for refugees in future migration system reform.

There is demand and interest from employers, universities, diaspora communities and the wider Australian community (including members of faith groups, clubs, schools etc) to expand and embed complementary pathways as additional to the Humanitarian intake.

It is widely recognised that while refugees clearly require humanitarian protection and suitable migration pathways to enable this, they nevertheless bring with them a diverse range of skills, experience and capacities to benefit the labour markets and economy of countries that offer them a safe and permanent home. For example, there is compelling evidence that people from refugee backgrounds are drivers of innovation and have a greater propensity for entrepreneurship than other migrant groups, creating new businesses and jobs for other Australians.[4]

Expanding complementary pathways is one way to achieve the government’s objectives to ‘improve economic growth, particularly through increased productivity, innovation and entrepreneurship’ and ‘attract and retain the best talent from around the world,’ including by facilitating refugees to settle in regional Australia.

How do we ensure the migration program supports Australia’s international interests?

In the lead up to the Global Refugee Forum in 2023, and as Co-Chair of the Global Taskforce on Refugee Labour Mobility, it is in Australia’s international interests to lead the way in demonstrating the viability of complementary pathways for refugees by building on its existing commitments. We note, in this regard, the Albanese Government’s commitment to introduce, over time, 5,000 community sponsored visas per annum for refugees in addition to an expanded government-assisted intake (which is slated to increase to 27,000 places per annum).[5]

To date, Australia has or is piloting a range of initiatives that could (potentially) be considered complementary pathways for refugees, although only two so far have been in addition to existing commitments made through the Humanitarian Program (see details by downloading our full submission). Pilots, existing programs and past experiences provide important learnings that can inform future thinking.

What reforms are needed to ensure the migration system can meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead?

In rethinking Australia’s migration system and how to unlock complementary pathways for refugees through migration reform, we recommend the following principles be considered:


1.   A Coherent National Approach

We welcome this opportunity for the Commonwealth to lead in developing a strong, logical and coherent national framework for complementary pathways. One goal of this approach should be to provide a clear ‘menu of options’ for non-traditional actors to become involved in refugee protection as part of a whole-of-society approach to Australia’s refugee response. There is a great appetite to help among private individuals, faith groups, diaspora communities, clubs and businesses which is currently being under-utilised due to the lack of established and ‘fit for purpose’ programs.

2.   Additionality

It is essential that admission of refugees through complementary pathways is additional to that facilitated through the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Complementary pathways cannot substitute those arriving through UNHCR-referred resettlement programs nor substitute States’ obligations to provide international protection to refugees through access to asylum.[8]

3.   Durability

Complementary pathways for refugees need to be durable solutions that uphold humanitarian protection principles – i.e., provide a permanent visa or a clear pathway to permanency – with safeguarding against risk of refoulement (returning a person to a place where they face persecution or harm).

4.   Accessibility

Refugees and other displaced people (for example, stateless people) require some facilitated support and consideration in policy settings to overcome barriers to accessing labour, family and educational migration pathways. Access can be facilitated through targeted initiatives (for example, introducing visa subclasses, or through funded or quarantined programs) that ensure policy settings address the distinct barriers faced by refugees seeking to migrate to Australia through non-resettlement pathways. This includes consideration of visa costs and simplifying the language used in application requirements in recognition that refugees are less likely to have the resources to pay immigration lawyers or migration agents to process their visa applications.

5.   Supported settlement

Refugees arriving through complementary pathways will likely have similar experiences and needs to other refugees and migrants with regards to navigating life in Australia. Ensuring adequate settlement support is available is imperative. This can be done in different ways, including by drawing on learnings and models of community settlement support offered by the CRISP pilot, community engagement initiatives by settlement providers and ensuring a referral pathway to settlement services is accessible regardless of the type of visa the migrant holds but on the basis of their needs.

Organisations endorsing

2022 Joint Submission on Complementary Pathways
Size : 169 kB Format : PDF

[1] UNHCR. Complementary pathways for admission to third countries

[2] 21.3 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate and 5.8 million Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s mandate. UNHCR (2022). Global trends: Forced displacement in 2021

[3] UNHCR (2022). Projected global resettlement needs 2023

[4] Centre for Policy Development (2019). Seven Steps to SUCCESS: Enabling Refugee Entrepreneurs to Flourish

[5] ALP National Platform (2021).

[6] RCOA. Family separation and family reunion for refugees

[7] Evans, R. Baker, S. & Wood, T. (2022). Expanding durable solutions for refugees: possibilities for developing education pathways in Australia, Australian Journal of Human Rights. Online first.

[8] See UNHCR Complementary pathways for admission to third countries

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