October 11, 2012
THE number of travellers over-staying their visas has doubled in five years, with almost 20,000 remaining in the country illegally last financial year alone.
Between July last year and June this year, about 19,540 people were found to have stayed in Australia for longer than their visa allowed — more than double the number of asylum-seekers who arrived in the country by boat during that period.
Since 2007, the number of illegal over-stayers has steadily climbed from 9330 to a record of 19,570 people breaching their conditions between July 2010 and June last year, according to figures obtained by The Australian.
A total of 76,940 people over-stayed their visa during the five years from 2007 to June this year.
Over the same period, the number of people being forced to return to their home countries has also risen, but at a slower rate.
Last year, 8320 illegal over-stayers were sent home, less than half those who arrived. This compares with the 8092 asylum-seekers, who travelled to Australia by boat over the same period.
The government data also reveals that it costs, on average, between $4000-$5000 each time Labor is forced to deport someone who stays illegally after their visa expires.
The Immigration Department last year located 3000 more invalid visa-holders than they did three years earlier.
But of the almost 20,000 people who remained in Australia last financial year illegally, a big number were holiday-makers who stayed in the country, sometimes inadvertently, just days over what their visa permitted.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said despite the spike in people over-staying their visas, the “overwhelming majority” of visitors to Australia obeyed the conditions of their visa. “In 2011-12, more than 99 per cent of more than 4.8 million temporary entrants complied with the requirement to leave Australia prior to their visa expiring,” the spokesman said.
He also stressed the government had become better at cracking down on invalid visa-holders.
“Immigration compliance operations have actually led to about a 25 per cent increase in the number of visa over-stayers and other unlawful non-citizens being detected and either removed from Australia or having their status regularised,” the spokesman said.
But in April of last year alone, 4300 people breached the conditions of their visa by over-staying.