Over 19,000 people with temporary refugee status will now be able to apply for a permanent Resolution of Status (RoS) visa, giving them the same rights as permanent residents. This will allow immediate access to social security payments, higher education assistance and the NDIS as well as the ability to apply for home mortgages and business loans.
RoS visa holders will be able to apply to sponsor family members through the migration program.
“For too long, refugees on temporary visas have had their lives on hold, unable to feel that Australia is their home and subject to restrictions on basic human rights,” said Peter Jones OSA, President of Catholic Religious Australia.
“This continued uncertainty has exacerbated the already significant trauma they have experienced in fleeing their country of origin.”
Mr Jones said CRA supported the inclusion of measures to facilitate the speedy implementation of the RoS visa application process, including the waiving of application fees and the provision of additional funding to specialist refugee legal centres to provide free legal assistance to applicants.
In Adelaide, Sr Meredith Evans RSM, a member of the Wayville Circle of Friends, said she rang seven families after learning the news and was “overwhelmed” by their response.
“Two of them burst into tears,” she said.
“Just the thought that something has finally happened that offers the possibility of permanency. They have been hanging on, hanging on, 10 years waiting to know what’s going to be their future.”
She said Justice for Refugees, along with Circle of Friends, had been talking with a lot of politicians about “what’s going on with these peoples’ lives”.
“We could speak of on-the-ground experiences, this is not just an academic exercise.”
At their first Circle of Friends meeting for the year – which happened to be the day after the announcement- the group celebrated with a glass of champagne and discussed what the decision would mean for the 35 families currently being supported by the Wayville Circle.
Another member, Kate Pittolo, who wrote to the Prime Minister at Christmas and participated in recent protests outside Federal MPs’ offices, said when she found out at 10 o’clock on the Sunday night she couldn’t wait to tell everyone.
“Just the other day we were standing out in the rain protesting with our banners…we’ve been supporting people directly since they came out of Inverbrackie (detention centre),” she said.
When she started ringing people the next morning some of them had found out already and were full of “relief and joy”.
Vinnies Refugee and Asylum Seeker Service and House of Welcome manager Emma Yengi also welcomed the announcement but expressed concern for those people on bridging visas and ‘double negatives’ (twice rejected for refugee status).
“They are the poorest of the poor, the people we are paying rent for, they are the ones who really need our help,” she said.
“This decision gives a lot of hope but I feel for the others.
“Everyone is trying to digest it and see how it fits on the ground, but yes for a bunch of people it’s fabulous news.”
Ms Yengi said access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme would be very important for families she knew who had been affected by workplace injuries and serious accidents.
Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles, said all people on TPVs and SHEVs had been found to be refugees, and owed Australia’s protection.
“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.” Mr Giles said.
“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 has committed $9.4 million over two years for visa application assistance through specialist legal service providers across Australia.
It is expected the process of converting temporary protection visas to permanent ones will be concluded in around 12 months.
Refugee community groups and non-profit organisations have been campaigning for the removal of temporary protection visas since the policy’s inception in 2014 under the Liberal-National Coalition government.
The temporary protection policy was applied to anyone who had arrived by boat to seek protection in Australia before 19 July 2013 and had not been given refugee status prior to the change of government in September 2013. Having endured an extended period of immigration detention on arrival, their protection claims were suspended until 2015 while the Abbott Government implemented its temporary protection policy.