This section details the current Australian Immigration policy guidelines for all those who arrive in Australia without a visa.


The human right to seek asylum is enshrined in the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to Refugees. Australia is a signatory to both agreements, alongside 142 other nations [1,3].

At the end of 2011 the United Nations estimated that there were over 16 million refugees and asylum seekers worldwide [2]. Australia provides 13,750 places each year in total for refugee and humanitarian entrants to Australia [10]. This is roughly 0.3% of the world’s refugees [10]. In 2010, refugee and humanitarian entrants composed just 6.6% of the immigrants Australia accepts each year – the lowest since 1975 [10].

Australia ranks 48th in the world in terms of the numbers of refugees it hosts, but this rank is 62nd relative to population size and 87th based on wealth per capita [10].



This is the Coalition Government’s military-led strategy to deter and prevent people seeking asylum arriving by boat in Australian waters [11].

The policy includes:

  • Reintroducing TPVs
  • Further developing Australia’s off-shore processing centres
  • Intercepting and turning back boats carrying refugees to Australia
  • Denying refugee status to those who they suspect have destroyed/damaged their documents

Border Protection is now classified as part of the Department of Immigration’s portfolio, labelling asylum seekers as a security emergency (rather than a humanitarian one) [11].



Australia is the only country where detention is mandatory for all those who arrive without a visa [5].

  • Under the current Australian Refugee and Humanitarian program, all those who arrive in Australia without a pre-approved visa are detained (unless they’re granted a temporary bridging visa) [5].

Australia is the only country that allows indefinite detention [5].

  • Regardless of circumstances, those who are detained can be held there indefinitely until they are given a visa or leave the country [6].

The Australian government has no obligation to remove them from detention [6].

  • Even if a person is found to be no risk to the Australian community, or detention is causing them serious harm.

Asylum seekers are often detained for 6-12 months [5].

  • As of 31 December 2012, 8.4% had been in detention for over a year [5].



Refugees arriving by boat without a visa are transferred to and detained in off-shore processing centres

  • These are situated in PNG (Manus Island), East Timor and Nauru [8].
  • They are detained until they are processed and declared a genuine refugee [8].
  • Off shore processing centres were shut down in 2008, only to be re-introduced in 2012 [8].

The Regional Resettlement Agreement

As of July 19 2013, all refugees arriving by boat without a visa can never settle in Australia

  • They are sent to PNG for detainment, processing and re-settlement [7].
  • This policy applies to all arrivals, including vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children, unaccompanied minors [7].
  • There is no limit to the number of people who can be transferred to PNG [7].



Reintroduced in October 2013, TPVs can be given to refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived without a visa and fulfil Australia’s protection obligations [9].

People are only granted TPVs after they are detained, processed and found to be a refugee [9].

TPVs come with a number of limiting conditions [9]

  • Recipients can work and children can access public education.
  • They have limited access to medical and welfare services
  • They cannot travel overseas or apply for family reunion visas for loved ones

TPVs can last for up to 3 years (but can be granted for shorter periods) [9].

  • Once expired, the recipient must re-apply, with no guarantee of approval.
  • They may apply for a permanent protection visa at the discretion of the Minister.



Next: The Effect of Australia’s Policy on Refugee Mental Health


  1. Steel Z, Chey T, Silove D et al. Association of Torture and Other Potentially Traumatic Events With Mental Health Outcomes Among Populations Exposed to Mass Conflict and Displacement: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.JAMA. 2009;302(5):537-549.
  2. Bull M, Schindeler E, Berkman D et al. Sickness in the System of Long-term Immigration Detention. Journal of Refugee Studies. 22 Jun 2012;26(1):47-68.
  3. Steel Z. Silove D, Brooks R et al. Impact of immigration detention and temporary protection on the mental health of refugees. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2006; 188, 58-64.
  4. Newman L, Proctor N, Dudley M. Seeking asylum in Australia: immigration detention, human rights and mental health care. Australasian Psychiatry. 2013; 21(4): 316-320.
  5. Phillips J & Spinks H. Immigration detention in Australia. Parliamentary Library. 2013. Available from: Parliamentary Library
  6. Australia’s Offshore Humanitarian Program: 2012-2013 [Internet]. Canberra: Department of Immigration and Citizenship; 2013. Available from:
  7. Fact Sheet: Regional Resettlement Arrangements [Internet]. Australian Government; 2013. Available from:
  8. Immigration detention and offshore processing on Christmas Island [Internet]. Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission; 2009. Available from:
  9. Refugee Review Tribunal. Protection Visas. In: Guide to Refugee Law In Australia [Internet]. Sydney: Commonwealth of Australia; 2014. Available from:
  10. Fact sheet: Australia vs. the World. Melbourne: The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre; 2012. Available from:
  11. The Coalitions Operation Sovereign Borders Policy [Internet]. Barton: Liberal Party of Australia, National Party of Australia; 2013. Available from: