01 February 2012

Australian visa cuts outrage refugee groups

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Despite more than 20,000 persecuted people with genuine family links to Australians desperately trying to secure an Australian visa, the programme which grants visa on humanitarian grounds has been cut from 3,000 places to just 750, sparking outrage from refugee advocates.

Australia visa

The reduction in visas to be granted on humanitarian grounds has been severe enough to outrage refugee groups.

The reduction in Australian visas to just 750 is the second such reduction after the original 9,000 places in 2003 was reduced to 3,000 last year. And with just 149 places left for the next six months, the mounting backlog, including almost 12,000 children and spouses of Australian residents, face little chance of rejoining their families.

The cut has been linked to the dramatic increase in boat arrivals, which have dominated Australian politics in recent weeks, in that each arrival by boat that is granted an Australian visa, deducts one place from the humanitarian programme.

The Refugee Council of Australia has called on the government to scrap the plan, claiming further cuts to visa allocations will cause increased tensions and frustrations as well as fuel the animosity toward boat arrivals.

The Council claims that the cuts will also encourage more people to attempt to make the perilous journey by boat if it appears they stand a better chance of receiving a visa through that route than by legal means, a belief supported by one Australian based refugee:

"If there is no way we can reunite with our family, we have little choice but to help our family come by boat"

Paul Power, chief executive at the Refugee Council of Australia argued that Australia was the only country in the world that limited the number of refugees entering on humanitarian grounds compared to the number of asylum seekers arriving.

The Australian immigration department issued a briefing paper in response which stated the humanitarian programme "is facing the greatest pressure since its inception" and that 2012 is "likely to be the smallest in 30 years" but they would be considering privatising some aspects of the programme in order to grant more visas without impacting the federal budget.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy London.

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