12 September 2011

It's a crazy idea, but....

I have been looking over a few cases involving onshore protection visa applications. It has been apparent to everyone involved for some time (including, not the least, the judicial authorities -- see my earlier post) that there is a significant amount of abuse of the system in this area. There has been some improvement in the last couple of years, due to an increase in the rate of processing applications through the system, but it is still the case that someone who knows the ropes, or is guided by someone else who knows them, can draw out a case for a year or more at very little cost to themselves, though considerable cost to the system: arrival on visitor visa, application for protection visa close to expiry date, appeal to Refugee Review Tribunal, appeal to Federal Magistrates Court, appeal to Federal Court, application for special leave to appeal to High Court (though by this stage it is beginning to get expensive). From the expiry of the initial visitor visa to the death of the last appeal, the applicant is free to come and go and has lawful permission to work.

Some of the costs are obvious in terms of expenditure by the administration and the Courts. The reduction in processing time in recent years has been helped by the requirement that the RRT decide cases within 90 days, but this has also come at a cost: since the RRT and MRT (Migration Review Tribunal) are administered jointly, the flow of resources into the RRT to meet the 90 day deadline has resulted in a blow out in the backlog of non-refugee cases in the MRT, with many taking 18 months or more to be heard. There is also a cost, in my opinion, to genuine onshore applicants whose credibility is inevitably measured against the background of a large number of fraudulent applications.

The solution seems fairly obvious. If the attraction is permission to work in Australia (earning the onshore protection visa the nickname of the "$30 work permit"), then why not remove it?

What if we treated all asylum seekers the same, regardless of how they got here? With or without a visa, they could be accommodated in open hostels, fed and clothed but not allowed to work. Their children could go to school, there would be no razor wire, they could come and go during the day but be required to check in at night. Failure to do so would amount to a deemed withdrawal of the protection visa application and would then be held against them when they were later caught and tried to re-open their case. People with valid visas could continue to get the benefit of them, but could not renew them on expiry.

Sound scary? Only because of our visceral, irrational, bed-wetting fear of being dispossessed by people arriving in boats without permission. Wherever did we get that phobia from?

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