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Recent changes in Australian refugee policy

This brief summarises the many changes to Australia’s refugee and asylum policies in recent years. These changes have largely been a political response to an increase in the number of people seeking asylum by boat (51,637 arrivals in the past five years) and in deaths at sea (at least 862 deaths over the same period). Both of Australia’s major political parties have responded by blocking access to protection in Australia and penalising those coming by boat.

Refugee and Humanitarian Program

For many years, Australia has set a number of visas under the Refugee and Humanitarian Program to resettle people for humanitarian reasons (offshore resettlement) and for grants of asylum in Australia (onshore protection). In recent years, this was set at 13,750 places, excepting the 2012-13 financial year, when it was increased to 20,000 (the largest increase to the program in 30 years).

This reverted to 13,750 places with the change of government in September 2013, before increasing to 16,250 in 2017-18. In September 2015, the Australian Government announced a one-off intake of another 12,000 resettlement places for refugee fleeing the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. All of those visas were granted by March 2017. The Government has confirmed that in 2018-19 the Program will increase to 18,750, although this number is now referred to as a ‘ceiling’. In the 2020 budget, the Government reduced the intake to 13,750, citing the inability to resettle people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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