In December 2014, changes to section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 expanded the grounds on which a person’s visa (temporary or permanent) can be cancelled on the basis of their ‘character’. If a visa is cancelled, the person is legally required to be detained before being removed from Australia. The new cancellation powers place people from refugee backgrounds at risk of prolonged indefinite immigration detention, as they cannot be returned to their countries of origin.
In some cases, which including where people have been sentenced to 12 months or more in prison, or have been convicted of offences relating to immigration detention, the visas are automatically cancelled unless and until the government, and in some cases the Minister personally, decides to revoke the cancellation.
These changes, as well as stricter policies, have led to a very significant increase in the number of people held in detention on the basis of visa cancellations, including of people from refugee backgrounds. After these changes, the total number of cancelled visas granted to refugees jumped from an average of 48 per year to 471 per year.
This has also led to a significant change in the composition of people in detention, which has increased tensions and intensified the security measures employed to manage those centres.