The United Nations refugee agency has praised an Australian initiative that could allow thousands of people living temporarily in the country to stay permanently.
The Australian Government announced yesterday that the holders of temporary protection visas (TPVs) – who are allowed to stay for three years before returning to their home nation if conditions have improved there – can now apply for mainstream migration visas. Previously they had to leave the country to exercise this option.
There are about 9,500 TPV holders in Australia, which introduced the visa category in 1999 after a surge in unauthorized arrivals by boat.
The holders of offshore temporary humanitarian visas, such as those people who were transferred to Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, will also be allowed to apply for regular migration visas.
Canberra cited the TPV holders’ “significant contribution” to their local communities, especially outside the country’s major cities, as the main reason for the decision.
Roberto Mignone, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Acting Regional Representative for Australia, welcomed the measures, saying they showed “how the refugees themselves have won the hearts and support of their neighbours in rural communities.”
He added: “We hope this helps increase understanding and acceptance of refugees in general, and the contributions they can make to their new homes.”
Australia also announced that TPV holders who are found to no longer need protection can receive a “pending return visa,” which will allow them to spend 18 months in the country to make arrangements to return home or go elsewhere. These visa holders will still be allowed to work and to receive State-subsidized medical care.