1.2.2 Protection visas (onshore)

This output:
  • ensures that Australia efficiently and effectively fulfils its international obligation not to return, directly or indirectly, refugees to their places of persecution
  • allows for the stay in Australia (through Protection visas) of people to whom Australia has protection obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention and Protocol.


Under this outcome the department:

  • determines if the claims of people already in Australia satisfy the refugee definition under the United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, or whether they are owed protection under other international treaties, and grants Protection visas to those who qualify
  • considers, through Refugee Status Assessment (RSA) arrangements, claims of people who arrive at an excised offshore place and are unable to lodge a visa application unless the minister allows
  • considers the unique and exceptional circumstances of requests for ministerial intervention under section 417 of the Migration Act to remain in Australia by failed asylum seekers whose visa application refusal has been upheld by the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT).

The department also provides assistance for applications from asylum seekers in immigration detention and other disadvantaged visa applicants in the community under the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS).

New initiatives announced in 2008–09

The government announced in the 2009–10 Budget a decision to incorporate complementary protection into the Protection visa decision making process. This will enable more efficient assessment of non-refoulement (non-return) obligations under relevant human rights treaties at the same time as refugee obligations are assessed.

The government also announced changes that provide new and fairer access to work rights for asylum seekers from 1 July 2009 through abolition of the ‘45 day rule’. Previously, the 45 day rule required that a Protection visa applicant must have been in Australia for fewer than 45 days prior to making their visa application in order to obtain permission to work.

The new arrangements are intended to provide asylum seekers who are lawfully in the community and cooperating with the department to resolve their status with permission to work to support themselves and their families while they await the outcome of their application to remain in Australia.


Performance indicators include time taken to finalise decisions on applications, number of applications decided and compliance with processing standards (see Table 32).

Table 32: Protection visas—performance information
Key performance indicators 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09
Quality: All (100%) of protection applications decided within 90 days in accordance with legislation, with 60% of applications from applicants in detention decided within 42 days
Planned (90 days) 100% 100% 100%
Result (90 days) 84% 80% 77%
Planned (42 days) 60% 60% 60%
Result (42 days) 67% n/a1 n/a1
Quality: Formal quality assurance reporting shows at least 97% of primary Protection visa cases comply with all processing standards
Planned 97.0% 97.0% 97.0%
Result 98.7% 99.6% 99.5%
Quantity: Number of onshore protection applications (persons) decided
Projected 4 200 5 350 7 500
Result 5 067 4 901 5 435
Quantity: Number of persons/services in detention delivered with assistance under the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS)
Planned 250 250 250
Result 343 387 361
  1. Data not available for technical reasons.
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Processing Protection visa decisions in a timely manner is a priority for the department. During 2008–09, 77 per cent of initial decisions were made within 90 days, notwithstanding significant growth in applications.

As shown in Figure 19, the department was responsible for about a third of instances where the decision took more than 90 days, including for reasons such as the need to explore complex character issues.

During 2008–09, there were 5304 Protection visa lodgements, compared to 3987 in the previous year. Of these, the department finalised 4899, compared to 3786 in 2007–08. Tables 33 and 34 show Protection visa lodgements and grants in 2008–09 and the two previous years.

Figure 19: Reasons for delays beyond 90 days for reporting periods in 2008–09

Reasons for delays beyond 90 days for reporting periods in 2008-09

Table 33: Initial Protection visa lodgements in 2008–09 and previous two years
2006–07 2007–08 2008–09
Lodgements 3 743 3 987 5 304
Finalisations1 3 714 3 786 4 899
On hand awaiting a decision at end-of-year 780 990 1 384
  1. Finalisations include withdrawals, death of applicant, departures from Australia and other reasons for a case to be closed administratively rather than as a result of a visa decision being made.
Table 34: Protection visa (PV) grants and Resolution of Status (RoS) grants in 2008–09 and previous two years
2006–07 2007–08 2008–09
Grants—initial 1 699 1930 2 378
Grants—other (including TPV/THVs until August 2008 and grants from the ministerial intervention process) 544 501 53
RoS grants (to TPV/THV holders and
their families)
- - 744
PV and RoS grants—total 2 243 2 431 3 175

In 2008–09, the top 10 countries of citizenship for people applying for Protection visas were (in order of descending numbers) the People’s Republic of China, Sri Lanka, India, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Iran.

The top 10 countries of citizenship for Protection visa grants were the People’s Republic of China, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Burma, Bangladesh and Egypt.

Table 35: Top 10 countries of citizenship for initial Protection visa applicants
Country of Citizenship 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09
People’s Republic of China 1 040 1 248 1 181
Sri Lanka 462 397 494
India 381 199 355
Zimbabwe 64 140 318
Afghanistan 33 20 254
Iraq 203 202 242
Pakistan 94 181 221
Indonesia 182 219 213
Malaysia 102 219 210
Iran 76 116 209
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Table 36: Top 10 countries of citizenship for Protection visa grants
Country of Citizenship 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09 Percentage change on 2007-08
People’s Republic of China 415 415 426 3%
Sri Lanka 364 434 364 -16%
Afghanistan 25 32 223 597%
Zimbabwe 28 87 215 147%
Iraq 157 221 169 -24%
Pakistan 53 117 158 35%
Iran 61 97 146 51%
Burma 43 56 78 39%
Bangladesh 39 42 49 17%
Egypt 50 37 45 22%

During the year, the department responded effectively to an increase in the numbers of asylum seekers arriving by sea, maintaining the number of applications being processed and the time taken to reach decisions at a relatively stable level.

This outcome was achieved through the early application of additional resources and development of a surge response capacity to address growth and continued redesign of work processes.

Christmas Island—non-statutory Refugee Status Assessment and Protection visa processing

On 29 July 2008, the minister announced new and improved processing arrangements for asylum seekers who arrive at an excised offshore place.

These arrangements include provision of publicly funded independent advice and assistance, independent merits review of unfavourable Refugee Status Assessments (RSAs), robust procedural guidance for RSA officers and external scrutiny of the RSA process by the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have also observed the new arrangements.

Since the start of the new arrangements to 30 June 2009:

  • 944 asylum seekers arrived on Christmas Island for processing. Of these, 932 arrived at an excised offshore place
  • priority was given to processing unaccompanied minors, family groups, torture and trauma victims and others with special needs
  • 531 RSA assessments were initiated and 217 completed. Of those completed, 206 were approved and granted a Protection visa and 11 were refused. All those refused lodged a request for independent review and the original decision was affirmed in all cases except in one instance, where a decision to approve followed a recommendation from a review. At 30 June 2009, there were 314 cases in the RSA process
  • 22 Protection visa applications were lodged by those who arrived on the mainland with 10 decided. All of these applications were refused and all 10 applicants lodged a request for review by the Refugee Review Tribunal. At 30 June 2009, there were 12 Protection visa applications in process for irregular maritime arrivals who arrived on the mainland.

Key achievements

During 2008–09 the department implemented the abolition of Temporary Protection visas (TPVs) and a range of Temporary Humanitarian visas (THVs) with effect from 9 August 2008. All holders (and in some instances former holders who were still in Australia) became eligible for a permanent Resolution of Status (RoS) visa. About 76 per cent of eligible persons had been granted RoS visas by the end of 2008–09.

The department also implemented major changes to administrative arrangements and to the guidelines for the exercise of the minister’s public interest powers under section 417 of the Migration Act. This was in line with recommendations by Ms Elizabeth Proust in the report on the Appropriate Use of Ministerial Powers under the Migration and Citizenship Acts and Migration Regulations released on 9 July 2008. Table 37 shows ministerial intervention outcomes under section 417 of the Migration Act for 2008–09 and the previous two years.

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Figure 20: Resolution of TPV/THV caseload

Resolution of TPV/THV caseload

Table 37: Ministerial intervention under section 417 of the Migration Act
Activity 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09
Requests received 3 303 3 510 2 816
Requests finalised 4 013 3 491 2 436
Requests finalised by the minister 2 741 2 100 1 502
Visas granted 847 754 606
Table 38: Immigration advice and application assistance scheme activity (IAAAS)
Activity 2007–08 2008–09 Percentage change
Application assistance to detainees 387 361 - 6.3%
Application assistance in the community 628 604 - 3.8%
Immigration advice 5 825 6 056 4.0%
Total IAAAS services 6 840 7 021 2.6%
Total IAAAS expenditure $2 234 123 $2 317 555 3.5%
Refugee claims assisted on
Christmas Island
n/a 440 n/a
Cost of IAAAS services on
Christmas Island
n/a $957 145 n/a

During 2008–09 the department delivered assistance under the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS) to 7021 people at a cost of $2.318 million.

During 2008–09, the department strengthened consultation with the community sector and other stakeholders, including through the newly established Onshore Protection Consultative Group. Consultation with this group enables regular input from key stakeholders including non-government community bodies and advocacy groups on possible procedural changes to Protection visa processing and the implementation of government policy initiatives.

The department continued to expand its holdings of information available to decision makers on human rights and refugee issues in countries of origin. Decision makers now have access to several thousand new items in addition to electronic copies of key human rights reports and/or country information collections from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, bringing the total to some 194 000 documents.