Australian immigration to issue more bridging visas for asylum seekers

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Australian Immigration has announced that, following a policy change, one-third of asylum seekers arriving by boat will be living in the community on bridging visas next year. Under this new process, the immigration department expects to save $400 million by moving asylum seekers out of detention centres and into the community.

Australia immigration will be issuing bridging visas which will require asylum seekers to find accommodation and seek work. To date, only 257 bridging visas have been issued. According to Australia Immigration Department's deputy secretary, Jackie Wilson, it is expected 6 percent of asylum seekers will be released onto bridging visas this year.

Wilson also said the department expected that by 2012-13, 20 percent of asylum seekers would be in community detention centre where the department provides housing and support. In addition to this, 30 percent of asylum-seekers would be released on bridging visas to live and work in the community, leaving just half of boat arrivals in the usual type of detention facilities.

The difference between a community detention and a regular detention centre is that in a community detention people are able to move about freely in the country without needing to be accompanied. A detention centre detains high-risk individuals and does not allow them to move about the country freely.

Bridging visas allow illegal immigrants to lawfully stay in Australia under the following situations:
  • During the processing of an application, made in Australia, for a substantive visa (any visa which is not a bridging visa or criminal justice visa), including merits review of a decision to refuse such an application
  • While arrangements are made to leave Australia
  • At other times when the 'non-citizen' does not have a visa (for example, when seeking judicial review) and it is not necessary for the person to be kept in immigration detention.
  • Is awaiting the outcome of a request for an intervention from the Minister. You can make a request for ministerial intervention if you have received a decision by a review tribunal and would like to request that the Minister reviews this decision.
The visas require asylum seekers to find accommodation and seek work to pay their way as they wait for the outcome of refugee claims. Immigration officials hope issuing more visas can relieve pressure on the detention network and lower costs for the department.

Amidst offshore processing disagreements in parliament, Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced in October 2011 that mandatory detention would be retained for security, identity and health checks, but bridging visas would increasingly be used. The government has been in offshore processing negotiations over what to do with the increasing numbers of asylum seekers that are arriving by boat to Australia. Australian immigration currently detains all those who arrive by boat either in Australia or offshore at the Christmas Island detention centre while they await Australian visas. The question now is if Australian immigration should reopen a processing centre on the Pacific island of Nauru.

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