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Asylum seeker processing wait time blows out to two years

The backlog appears certain to grow because the tribunal cleared only four in five migration cases and one in four refugee cases in the first quarter of the financial year.

While some of the applicants are found to be genuine refugees, official figures show that 90 per cent of the onshore protection visa applications are refused, giving rise to concerns that workers are being “trafficked” from overseas.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed on Tuesday the number of asylum seekers arriving by plane had reached 80 per day after more than 95,000 arrivals over the past five years.

While an applicant in the refugee stream at the AAT would wait an average of 359 days three years ago, the waiting time is now 786 days – more than twice as long, and a new high of more than two years.

Waiting times vary according to the class of visa being sought but the official AAT figures show a bigger backlog and longer delays across most classes.


“When timeframes push out, one of the issues is that it can create an opportunity for the program to be misused,” said Migration Council of Australia chief Carla Wilshire.

“We have to be careful that unscrupulous actors do not take advantage of the timeframes and that we don’t create conditions that can lead to exploitation.”

The Morrison government blamed the trend on a significant increase in visa refusals under its tougher border protection policies.

The government said the average refusal rate across the temporary and permanent visa programs had increased from 2.5 per cent to almost 4 per cent over the past four years, equating to more than 150,000 applicants.

These people are working in exploited conditions on farms, in hospitality, sometimes in sexual servitude.

Kristina Keneally

“Our vetting processes are much stronger than those in place under Labor and have seen a substantial increase in the number of visas being refused. We make no apologies for this,” said Immigration Minister David Coleman.

But the government has come under fire for being too slow to help the AAT with more resources, while it waited for a review of the tribunal by former High Court judge Ian Callinan.

Attorney-General Christian Porter is considering changes to the tribunal to make it more efficient.

The government has allocated $158 million to the AAT this financial year, up from $142 million in fiscal 2017, and appointed 33 more members to the tribunal’s migration and refugee division last November to help with the caseload.

The tribunal’s latest figures showed the “clearance rate” for refugee decisions was 26 per cent in the three months to September 30, down from 40 per cent in the year to June 2019 and 64 per cent in the year to June 2017. The rate shows the proportion of case decisions to lodgements.

Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said the increase in asylum seekers arriving by air showed mismanagement by government in response to “criminal syndicates” exploiting workers.

“They’re trafficking people here,” Senator Keneally said of the organisers behind the trend.

“These people are working in exploited conditions on farms, in hospitality, sometimes in sexual servitude, sometimes being paid as little as $4 an hour and suffering significant exploitation and abuse.”

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