‘Momentous’ change for 19,000 refugees living in limbo

Refugees and supporters rally outside the  Immigration Department in Melbourne in 2022.

Refugees and supporters rally outside the Immigration Department in Melbourne in 2022. Photo: AAP

Thousands of refugees who have been living “in limbo” for more than a decade in Australia will finally be able to apply for permanent residency.

The long-awaited announcement applies to 19,000 asylum seekers who arrived before Operation Sovereign Borders began in 2013.

It fulfils an election commitment of the Albanese government to provide certainty for refugees who have been living on Temporary Protection visas or Safe Haven Enterprise visas.

More than 19,000 refugees eligible for permanent residency

However Labor said there was “zero chance” of refugees who had arrived after 2013 being resettled in Australia, with the government vowing to keep turning back new boats.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the Albanese government would maintain Operation Sovereign Borders and refuse to resettle new attempted arrivals.

“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,” said Ms O’Neil.

“There is zero-chance of settling in Australia under Operation Sovereign Borders.

“The Australian Defence Force and Australian Border Force are patrolling our waters to intercept and return any boats that try to enter.”

Operation Sovereign Borders will continue to turn back boats. Photo: AAP

‘End to uncertainty’

Eligible refugees will be able to apply for permanent visas from late March which will give them the same rights and benefits as Australian permanent residents — such as access to social security and higher education help.

The refugees will also be able to apply to become Australian citizens after meeting the requirements.

A cohort of people whose visas are due to expire soon will be invited by the department to have their applications fast-tracked.

The government has also set aside $9.4 million over two years to give the refugees free visa application help, through specialist legal service providers.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said Labor was putting an end to a decade of uncertainty for 19,000 migrants, as it made “no sense economically or socially, to keep them in limbo”.

“TPV (Temporary Protection) and SHEV(Safe Haven) holders work, pay taxes, start businesses, employ Australians and build lives in our communities- often in rural and regional areas,” he said.

“Without permanent visas however, they’ve been unable to get a loan to buy a house, build their businesses or pursue further education.”

People who held temporary protection visas had to reapply every three years, with those holding safe haven enterprise visas needing to reapply every five years.

The more than 2500 people who were found not to be owed protection by Australia will not be eligible, and are expected to leave the country.

For the more than 5000 people who are having their protection visa applications reviewed, this process will continue uninterrupted.

If an application for a temporary protection visa is sent back to the department by a court or tribunal, and the asylum seeker is found to be owed protection, they will be given permanent residency.


Refugee advocates hailed the visa announcement as “life-changing”.

“For the 10 years that I have worked in this space, I have never been able to experience a positive change that is as momentous and impactful for so many people as this conversion of temporary protection visas to permanent protection,” said Sarah Dale, director of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service.

“We are grateful to the Albanese Government for leading with this restoration of dignity.”

Ms Dale said thousands of refugees would have a “pathway to call Australia their permanent home”.

However RACS said many people seeking asylum were not included in this announcement, such as those impacted by offshore processing.

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