Refugee Council of Australia
Large cardboard Welcome refugees sign in protest

State of the Nation 2017: Refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia

Living in limbo

Settling in Australia

Living in limbo

The unfolding effects of temporary protection

People going through the ‘fast track’ process, even if formally recognised as refugees, will never truly be able to call Australia home. This is because, for anyone whose claims for protection had not been finalised by 2014, new laws meant that they could no longer get a permanent visa. The only option was for people to get a temporary visa – either a visa for three years (a temporary protection visa or TPV), or a visa for five years (a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa or SHEV).

This means that once the first three or five years are over, people must start the process all over again and prove again that they still need protection. It means that people can never settle properly and will live with the constant fear of being returned. This current system makes it hard for people to get work, to make friends and to plan for a future. People cannot access the support and services available to resettled refugees.

Service providers have been given an extremely short time to transition people on to the new scheme. Once a person is issued one of these visas, they must exit the service that has been supporting them through the entire process within seven days. At the same time, there is (yet another) pile of paperwork so people can access benefits and a great deal of new information, before the person is then left to cope on their own.

You know the biggest issue around the temporary visa is that there is no case work support and when we get the message saying that they’re to be exited because they have a TPV or SHEV, it is seven working days. So they have been waiting in limbo for three years, in a long drawn out process, so in that long drawn out process, at the end then to be told, ‘ok you got your visa now, you got seven days to exit them’. It is revolting.

We are trying what we can do to prepare people…it is a very difficult process, but if we had 2 to 3 months to do the effective connecting with people post their TPV or SHEV, to make sure the people were effectively connected to which ever part of the system that was going to be relevant to that person, that would make a lot more sense.

– Service provider, NSW

People given a TPV or SHEV will never enjoy the benefits of permanent residency – such as subsidised further or higher education – even if they live in Australia forever. Young people leaving school are facing a future where they cannot afford to learn the skills they need to apply for a job they would like. For people who are moved on to a SHEV, this means they cannot take the option of studying in a regional area, as they will not be able to pay the international fees that will be required of them. Even if the university waives its fees or gives them a scholarship, people will lose the little income support they can get if they start full-time study.

Our problems are similar: we can’t study, we can’t plan for the future, we can’t plan for the future of our children. My daughter finishes high school next year and I don’t know if she can study at university. The problems of us people seeking asylum are similar, we are away from our families and we have a constant worry and stress. We are alone, our children are alone.

– Iranian community member

This is because our welfare system has traditionally operated on the distinction between permanent residents and people who are only expected to stay for a short time (such as overseas students or professional foreign workers). Most of the standard payments — unemployment allowances, study allowances, and other protections — do not apply to people on temporary protection visas.

There has been some welcome news in 2016, with state and territory governments and some universities recognising the urgent need for access to education for people seeking asylum. Many supporting people seeking asylum, including ROCA, have welcomed initiatives by the NSW, Victorian and ACT governments to provide access to further education. We warmly welcomed scholarships announced by an increasing number of universities.

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