Nearly 20,000 refugees will soon be able to apply for permanency, giving them the same rights as permanent residents after being kept “in limbo”.
The changes – hailed by refugee advocates as “a victory of unity and compassion over division and fear” – were part a Labor election promise. They mean that about 19,000 temporary protection and safe haven enterprise visa holders will be eligible to apply for a permanent resolution of status visa.
That will give them the same rights as all other permanent residents, including social security payments, access to the national disability insurance scheme and higher education loans, as well as providing a pathway to Australian citizenship, which would allow holders to sponsor family to come to Australia.
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Boat arrivals on temporary protection visas have access to permanent residencyMichelle Grattan, University of Canberra
Thousands of boat arrivals whose futures have been in limbo for a decade or more will be able to apply from Monday to be permanent Australian residents.
The Minister for Home Affairs, Clare O’Neil and the Immigration Minister, Andrew Giles, have announced about 19,000 people on Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas will be eligible to apply.
The announcement fulfils a Labor election commitment. The decision only applies to people who entered Australia before Operation Sovereign Borders and who hold or have applied for a TPV or SHEV before Tuesday.
SHEV is a variation of a temporary protection visa. It has to be renewed every five years, compared to every three for a TPV. It was introduced some years ago to encourage people to go to regional areas. While in theory it gave a road to permanency, only one SHEV-holder has achieved that.
The ministers said just over 2500 people have had their TPVs or SHEVs refused or cancelled, and they will be expected to leave Australia.
The TPV/SHEV applications of more than 5000 people are in a review process which will continue.
The Home Affairs department will invite people on visas that are about to expire to apply for permanency, while other people will be able to apply online from late next month. Once a permanent visa is granted, the person will immediately become eligible for all social security payments, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (N, and higher education assistance, as well as continuing to have access to Medicare.
They will be eligible for citizenship when they meet the requirements and to sponsor family members under the migration program’s family stream.
Giles said: “There are thousands of TPV and SHEV holders in the community that have endured ten years of uncertainty due to the policies of the previous Liberal government.
“TPV and SHEV holders work, pay taxes, start businesses, employ Australians and build lives in our communities – often in rural and regional areas. Without permanent visas however, they’ve been unable to get a loan to buy a house, build their businesses or pursue further education. It makes no sense – economically or socially – to keep them in limbo.”
The government is anxious that the granting of permanency to this group is not taken by people smugglers as a signal to test its resolve on border protection.
O’Neil said: “Let me be crystal clear – if you try to enter Australia without a valid visa you will be turned back or returned to your port of origin. There is zero chance of settling in Australia under Operation Sovereign Borders.
“The Australian Defence Force are patrolling our waters to intercept and return any boats that try to enter.”
Last week the government had parliament urgently renew the designation of Nauru as a centre for detaining unauthorised arrivals. The designation had inadvertently been allowed to lapse.