The resettlement of refugees is part of the permanent offshore humanitarian protection that Australia offers to individuals overseas who are victims of armed conflicts or human rights violations and for whom resettlement is the most appropriate solution. Australia’s humanitarian programme is administered by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).
The Refugee Programme includes four types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in Australia. The majority of applicants who are considered under this category are identified and referred to the Australian Government by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
- Refugee Visa (Subclass 200): to be eligible for this visa, the person must meet the refugee definition in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (hereafter ‘1951 Convention’). The refugee definition stipulates that an individual must be outside their home country because of a fear of persecution. The refugee must also be in need of resettlement. The following family members may be included in the application:
- the applicant’s partner;
- dependent children of the applicant and the applicant’s partner if they are under 18 years of age or are aged 18 years or over, but are wholly or substantially reliant on their parent for financial, psychological or physical support.
- a parent, brother or sister; step-parent, step-brother or step-sister; grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew, step-grandparent, step-grandchild, step-aunt, step-uncle, step-niece or step-nephew if they are single, usually resident in the applicant’s household and wholly or substantially financially reliant on the applicant for financial, psychological or physical support.
As Australian permanent residents, holders of a Refugee visa are entitled to:
live and work in Australia permanently;
- study in Australian schools and universities;
- access subsidised healthcare through Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS); · access certain social security payments (subject to waiting periods);
- be eligible for Australian citizenship (subject to the residence eligibility criteria); · propose or sponsor people for permanent residence.
- In-country Special Humanitarian Visa (Subclass 201): this visa allows persons who are subject to persecution in their home country or habitual residence and who have not been able to leave that country to seek asylum elsewhere. This visa is rarely used. Applications are thus assessed on a case-by-case basis.
- Emergency Rescue Visa (Subclass 203): this visa is used in emergency cases where an applicant is subject to an immediate threat. A small number of emergency cases are referred to Australia each year through UNHCR’s Regional Office in Canberra. Applicants should have urgent and compelling reasons to be resettled to Australia. They have the same rights as Refugee visa holders. Emergency cases are given highest priority of all applications for resettlement. Once an application is accepted (usually within two days), the department aims to evacuate the successful applicant within three days of the decision to accept, pending health and character checks.
- Women at Risk Visa (Subclass 204): this visa is for especially vulnerable women such as single mothers, abandoned or single women. Women applicants must be living outside their home country, without the protection of a male relative and in danger of victimisation, harassment or serious abuse because she is female.
The applicant’s partner, dependent children or relatives may also be included in the application.
Eligibility and Admissibility for Resettlement
Applicants must have compelling reasons to be resettled to Australia. The DIAC decision-maker will consider balancing various factors such as:
- the degree of harm the applicants themselves may have suffered (such as individual discrimination or other physical harm);
- the degree of an applicant’s links to Australia (such as family and cultural links);
- Australia’s capacity to provide for settlement of the applicant; and
- whether resettlement is the most appropriate option for the applicant.
Applicants are also required to meet the public interest criteria intended to safeguard the Australian community’s health, access to health services, safety and national security. This includes satisfying health requirements. Applicants are generally asked to undergo a medical examination, an x-ray if 11 or more years of age and an HIV/AIDS test if 15 or more years of age.
The health criteria may be waived if the grant of a Refugee visa to the applicant is believed not to result in undue cost to the Australian community or unduly prejudice Australians’ access to health care or community services. The health criteria cannot, however, be waived if the applicant has a disease or other medical condition that represents a threat to public health in Australia.
Applicants and their dependent family members also have to be assessed against the character requirements. The assessment process may require the Australian Government to conduct character checks on applicants. Character requirements cannot be waived. Applications may, therefore, be refused on character grounds where there is evidence of criminal conduct on the applicant’s part or the applicant represents a threat or danger to the Australian community.
Family Reunification for Resettled Refugees
Holders of any of the four aforementioned visas can propose their immediate family members for entry to Australia through the offshore humanitarian program. The applicant’s relationship to the proposer must be declared to the department before the grant of the proposer’s visa. The immediate family of a proposer who entered Australia on a Refugee visa (subclass 200) for example (see above) will also be granted a Refugee visa. This is commonly referred to as the ‘Split Family’ provisions.
Immediate family members are:
- The spouse or de facto partner of the proposer;
- The child or stepchild of the proposer: a child who either has not turned 18 or has turned 18 and is dependent on the proposer. A person who has a partner or is engaged to be married cannot be considered for resettlement as a child under the ‘Split Family’ provisions.
- Includes parents or step-parents (if the proposer is not 18 or more years of age).
Unlike persons who enter Australia on a Special Humanitarian Program visa (SHP) (Subclass 202) (not as refugees but subject to substantial discrimination and human rights abuses in their home country), applicants who obtain a Refugee visa benefit from the government assistance for their travel costs and medical examinations. Applicants become ‘entrants’ on arrival to Australia. The responsibilities of the proposer towards entrants on a Refugee visa include inter alia: assisting them to find accommodation and familiarising them with services such as health care, education and public transport.
We sought advice on resettlement in Australia but did not receive any responses. If you notice any inaccuracies with this article, or are aware that laws have changed, please contact us.