May 31, 2015 | theguardian
Scheme introduced by federal government as an alternative to temporary protection visas criticised for lacking pathway to permanent residency.
Refugees in New South Wales will potentially be able to access five-year temporary visas if they agree to move to regional towns, as part of a new visa scheme introduced with federal government legislation late last year.
However critics have raised concerns about the lack of available detail and pathways to permanent residency within the scheme.
The NSW government is the first to sign up in principle to the federal safe haven enterprise visa (Shev) scheme, which gives people assessed to be refugees the opportunity to gain five-year visas if they are prepared to work or study outside of cities – Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong in NSW’s case.
“As Australia’s economic powerhouse, NSW has an obligation to open its arms to those who are genuine refugees,” the premier, Mike Baird, said in a statement, adding that the state stood ready to “take more than our fair share”.
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He said the scheme would help provide labour in NSW regions and provide longer term security for asylum seekers.
NSW’s introduction of the Shev scheme is pending final agreement with the federal government, and a memorandum of understanding is being negotiated that will cover the cost of support services for visa holders, Guardian Australia was told.
The Shev scheme was introduced as part of the federal government’s Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill, which passed late last year, and is an alternative to the three-year temporary protection visas.
“The purpose of safe haven enterprise visas is both to provide protection and to encourage enterprise through earning and learning while strengthening regional Australia,” read the bill.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection website does not provide details on how to apply for a Shev, indicating only that information will be made available. It does not include family reunion or re-entry to Australia provisions.
It was revealed in a Senate hearing in November a range of other legislation would have to be introduced to ensure Shev holders could transition to other visa types.
In his statement Baird urged the federal government “to provide a clear pathway to permanent residency for Shev holders who uphold the rules and make a contribution to regional communities.”
Amnesty International Australia has said the Shevs “will deny a large number any chance of permanent residency”.
In its submission to a Senate inquiry into the legislation, Amnesty outlined concerns over the lack of detail including what constituted “work” for visa holders. Amnesty also said: “It is not clear to what extent holders of a Shev will be able to move within Australia. It is equally unclear at this stage whether any state, territory or local government area will nominate as a ‘designated region’.”
There are about 32,000 asylum seekers awaiting final assessment in Australia, more than 8,000 of them in NSW.
Pamela Curr, campaign coordinator for the asylum seeker resources centre, said the Shev scheme would create extra processing work unnecessarily.
She said a large numbers of asylum seekers on bridging visas were already working in regional areas, in places like abattoirs and factories.
“Under the current system there’s nothing to stop people going out in the regions and working,” Curr told Guardian Australia. “The federal government has done nothing to assist them in doing it.”
“Instead of inventing these new fancy visas, why don’t they process and properly establish the status of those who have been sitting in the community in limbo?”
She said the burden of reevaluating refugees in the Shev process would only further slow down the processing of asylum seekers on bridging visas – many of whom have been waiting for years.
“They can’t handle the [32,000] they’ve got on their books now, which includes about 5,000 from as far back as 2009.”
Last week asylum seekers on bridging visas began receiving offers to apply for TPVs, after the federal government lifted its stay on on processing asylum claims.
Claims will be assessed using a controversial fast-track processing system.