While the Refugee Council of Australia welcomes the news that the Australian Government will continue to give visa priority to Ukrainians fleeing the brutal attack on their country, we are concerned that those who are arriving now will be left without the support they need during their time in Australia.
From 31 July 2022, people who have fled Ukraine are no longer able to apply for a Temporary Humanitarian Concern visa. Instead, those who missed out on the offer, or arrived in Australia after 31 July, will be able to apply for a one-year Bridging Visa E when their 90-day Visitor Visa runs out, or, if they fear persecution in Ukraine, an onshore Permanent Protection Visa (PPV). However, unlike the Temporary Humanitarian Concern visa, people on a bridging visa, including those awaiting an outcome on a PPV, will not have access to settlement services or income support.
For years, we have raised concerns about the growing destitution and homelessness caused by the removal of a financial safety net for people seeking asylum who are unable to find or maintain employment. From 2017, the then Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton began cutting access to the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program, with payments to bridging visa holders being cut by 85% over four years despite growing need.
Newly arrived people from Ukraine, most of whom are women, children and elderly people, will inevitably require support beyond what voluntary community efforts can provide. Those unable to support themselves will need access to a safety net, which we believe can be achieved by restoring access to the SRSS program.
The situation is exacerbated by the extraordinary backlogs in the processing of PPV applications. The average wait for an initial PPV visa decision from the Department of Home Affairs is two years with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal taking another six years to review refugee cases. This means that people seeking asylum, including now those from Ukraine, could be waiting over eight years in Australia without income support before the outcome of their refugee claim is finalised.