The Australian government announced changes to the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP), removing family reunion concessions for boat arrivals to further discourage people from risking their lives at sea.
Australian Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP in a statement sated that the Government had accepted in-principle the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, which included barring family members of people arriving by boat after 13 August 2012 from proposing family members under the humanitarian program.
“These changes will remove the incentive for people to travel to Australia by boat with the intention of bringing out their families on humanitarian visas,” Mr Bowen said.
“We don’t want people risking their lives at sea on dangerous boat journeys and together with the implementation of all the other panel recommendations this measure provides clear evidence of the Government’s determination to break the people smugglers’ business model.”
For those who arrived by boat before 13 August 2012, the changes mean applicants proposed by refugees in Australia will now need to meet all the criteria to be granted an SHP visa.
“Until now, the offshore spouse, dependent children and, in some cases, parents of refugees in Australia could be granted an SHP visa solely on the basis of that relationship, regardless of whether they were in humanitarian need themselves,” Mr Bowen said.
“This created a situation where, for example, the head of a family would arrive in Australia alone, apply for asylum and then seek to bring out several members of his family as humanitarian migrants.
“Decisions on the applications made by family of adult boat arrivals who arrived prior to 13 August 2012 will now take into account any discrimination or persecution they face in their home country, as well as their connection to Australia, their protection options elsewhere, and Australia’s capacity to help. Their applications will also be given lowest processing priority.
“These changes will also ensure highest priority is given to the applications of family of people who were granted refugee and humanitarian visas overseas and migrated to Australia in a safer and orderly manner.”
In accordance with the Expert Panel’s recommendation, applicants proposed by unaccompanied minor refugees who arrived before 13 August 2012 will still be eligible for SHP visas on the strength of their family relationship alone.
Mr Bowen said people affected by changes to the SHP would be able to sponsor their family through the regular family stream of Australia’s Migration Program.
“To accommodate the resulting increase in demand for visas in the family migration stream, and in accordance with the Expert Panel report, the Government will increase the number of places by 4,000 per year,” he said.
“Applicants sponsored by people who arrive by boat will need to meet the same requirements as everyone else applying for migration through the family stream, including the relevant visa application charges.”
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is currently finalising amendments to regulations required to enable the changes, which will then need to be considered by Her Excellency the Governor-General.
Subject to Her Excellency’s assent, the Government expects the changes to come into effect in coming weeks, the statement added.