Publish Date: Aug 14, 2015
According to a report published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 31 July 2015, the Federal Government is considering a scheme to allow an application for protection in Australia to be fast-tracked if a potential $19,000 fee is paid to the Immigration Department. The applicant’s family in Australia would also be required to promise to cover their health and welfare costs in the first few years in Australia.
A government paper under discussion has proposed an expansion of a community support program for offshore refugee and humanitarian applications. The program would expand a pilot program, the Community Proposal Pilot, originally set up by the former Labor government in mid-2013. Under the Community Proposal Pilot, an applicant for a refugee or humanitarian visa is charged $19,124 to lodge their application. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the government had raised more than $2 million from these charges by March this year, which the government has said contributes to resettlement costs.
The government paper proposes several changes to the pilot including that relatives in Australia could be asked to officially assure the government they will repay some health and Centrelink costs incurred by their migrating family member in the first few years of settlement. The program could also involve the payment of a bank deposit. Similar guarantees under other types of visas require up to $10,000 for a 10-year period for one adult.
The visa application charges under the Community Proposal Pilot are in addition to other costs for applicants such as the cost of medical checks, travel costs, and payments to community organisations that support their visa application.
The Community Proposal Pilot has 500 visa places from Australia’s Humanitarian Program, which currently offers 13,750 visa places. The program effectively reduces government costs of refugee resettlement without increasing the numbers of people accepted.
The government discussion paper does not say how many visas might be granted under the expanded program. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the paper has referred to a similar Canadian scheme which aims to accept 6,500 people this year.
The proposed fast track program would not apply to people who have been deemed to have arrived in Australia illegally, such as via unauthorised boats.
The chief executive of Refugee Council of Australia, Paul Power, supported the concept of families and communities in Australia helping to resettle refugees and humanitarian entrants, but has said that the government's proposals were "really about the Australian-based family paying a large sum of money to the Department of Immigration". Mr Power has said that many families "can't really afford it but they are pushed into it by their desperation" because there was no other way to secure protection for their relatives in Australia.
The Immigration Department has refused to release public submissions to the proposal for "privacy" reasons.