Thousands of asylum seekers crave certainty after Albanese vow to abolish temporary visas


While the Biloela family’s hopes of gaining permanent residency have been buoyed by the Albanese government’s interest in their case, tens of thousands of others on temporary visas, who have similarly sought refuge in Australia, continue to live in limbo.

In Iran, Hamid and Hassan both fled to Australia because they did not feel safe.

They arrived by boat, two years apart — Hassan in 2011 and Hamid in 2013 — and both now live in the rural township of Gatton, west of Brisbane. The community is seen as a microcosm for what’s happening around the rest of the country.

But during those two years Australia changed the rules for asylum seekers, and while Hassan was recognised as a refugee and granted a permanent visa, Hamid remains on a bridging visa which he has to reapply for every six months — knowing that each time he might be rejected.

It’s a stress Hamid has lived with for nearly a decade — and one an estimated 100,000 others living in communities around Australia face every day, according to asylum seeker advocates.

Hamid in the middle of a paddock holding a broccoli plant, Lockyer Valley, Queensland, June 2022.
For almost a decade Hamid has been a valued worker on vegetable farms in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley.(Supplied)

Gatton, in the Lockyer Valley, is the heart of Australia’s salad bowl and over the years Hamid has risen through the ranks of the horticulture industry to become a valued trainer and supervisor on several farms.

But despite the chronic worker shortage in the region and across Australia — and farmers’ reliance on workers such as Hamid — his hopes to start his own business and buy a house remain hobbled.

“I just want to work hard,” Hamid said.

Some of these farm owners have written references to support Hamid’s almost decade-long quest to become a permanent resident, but still he remains on a restrictive bridging visa

A reference letter from a farmer for Hamid.
A reference for Hamid from a farmer who has employed him for many years.(Supplied)

Hamid has work rights, but access to social support services is limited and, since 2017, every six months he has had to reapply for another visa, which he knows could be rejected each time. 

“I’m still getting a six-month visa, and all the time before about a couple of weeks to my visa expires, I get lots of tension [and] stress,” he said.

Because of when and how he arrived, Hamid has now exhausted his legal options under Australia’s current policy.

Despite coming from exactly the same background as Hassan, Hamid says immigration authorities “do not accept” that he should be granted permanent asylum, so he now lives from one bridging visa to the next.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne estimates about 100,000 people around Australia are living with crushing stress like Hamid.

Lawyer Hannah Dickinson stands with her arms crossed at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, 2022.
Hannah Dickinson is principal solicitor at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne.(Supplied: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre )

“It’s very frightening for the families who have to do it because, of course, it reminds them of the fear that is inherent in the prospect of being returned to that country that they fled in such dire circumstances in most cases.”

After 10 years of living in limbo Hamid is desperate for some certainty about the future for himself and his friends in Gatton.

“I’ve been here as a nice person, so I would like to tell this new government please … try to think about that,” he said.

Government vow on permanent visa pathway

While the new Labor government has committed to Operation Sovereign Borders, which includes boat turnbacks and offshore processing, its policy platform says, “Labor will abolish temporary protection visas (TPV) and safe haven enterprise visas (SHEV) and transition eligible refugees onto permanent visa arrangements”.

And the new Minister for Immigration, Andrew Giles, has previously told the ABC that he is “committed to delivering on the policies we took to the election”.

Lives in limbo graphic

There are about 19,000 “eligible” refugees on TPVs and SHEVs who are still waiting to be granted “permanent visa arrangements”.

But according to the University of New South Wales’ Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, there are many thousands more who, like Hamid, “live on precarious bridging visas, some of which have expired”

Some of these people have the right to work, others do not, and others have no access to income or health support at all.

The ABC contacted the federal government to ask when TPV and SHEV holders would be transitioned onto permanent visas, and what the future holds for the thousands of others who do not have visas.

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson confirmed the government’s commitment to “ensure there is a permanent visa pathway for existing TPV and SHEV holders” but did not comment on a transition timeframe or on any measures related to those who do not hold valid visas.

The spokesperson said the government had a “generous humanitarian program” as well as policies to disrupt people smuggling operations.

An image supplied by Border Force of the Australian navy approaching an asylum seeker boat.
The Australian Navy intercepting an asylum seeker boat in May 2019.(Supplied: Border Force)

Shifting sands of politics 

Many of the asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat have not only fled danger in their homelands, they have experienced trauma on their treacherous journey to what they hope will be a better life, refugee advocates report.

Hamid describes his experience of travelling to Australia on a small, leaky Indonesian fishing boat in July 2013 as a “horrifying” journey that he and others onboard believed would end with their deaths at sea — until the boat was intercepted by the Australian Navy near Christmas Island.

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