The Turnbull government will on Monday effectively throw up to 100 Australia-based asylum seekers onto the street by immediately cutting their income support and giving them three weeks to find a place to live.
The drastic move is revealed in leaked government documents that show the Department of Immigration and Border Protection will issue dozens of asylum seekers – possibly including a pregnant woman – transferred to Australia from offshore detention for medical reasons with a new visa known as the “final departure Bridging E Visa”.
Under the new visa conditions, income support of about $200 a fortnight will cease on Monday and a three-week deadline to move out of government-supported accommodation will be imposed.
“You will be expected to support yourself in the community until departing Australia,” the Immigration Department’s letter states.
“From Monday 28 August you will need to find money each week for your own accommodation costs. From this date, you will also be responsible for all your other living costs like food, clothing and transport. You are expected to sign the Code of Behaviour when you are released into the Australian community. The Code of Behaviour outlines how you are to behave in the community.”
The government’s latest move is believed to have surprised people in the Immigration Department, and is expected to revive fierce public debate about Australia’s policies on asylum seekers – as well as their children – who attempt to reach the mainland by boat.
“It’s hard enough for people in full employment with good wages to find a rental on three weeks’ notice, let alone people our government has imprisoned for years on remote islands and banned from working or training,” said Daniel Webb, a lawyer at Human Rights Law Centre.
“[Immigration Minister Peter] Dutton knows full well he is making people destitute. It’s a cruel attempt to force them to return to danger. We’re talking about people who have been part of our communities for years.
“The sensible and compassionate thing to do would be to let them stay. Instead, Dutton is trying to starve them out.”
While children and families are not expected to be included in the first batch of asylum seekers subject to the new visa conditions, human rights advocates and workers contracted to provide services to those seeking refugee status fear they could be next.
It is understood about 400 asylum seekers and their children are living in Australia at present after medical transfers from offshore processing and all of these people could be hit with the new visa conditions.
“This is one of the most extreme decisions the department has made in a long time,” said a source who has worked for years in welfare for asylum seekers. “Depending on how this first lot goes down the families could be next. These people are the guinea pigs. It really is playing with people’s lives.”
If the government were to impose the “final departure” visa condition on family groups it would put at risk the living conditions of dozens of asylum seeker children born in Australia, including the 37 babies whose photographs were published by Fairfax Media in February last year.
The new visa will provide work rights to asylum seekers to allow them to apply for jobs. But their chances of obtaining employment will be extremely low because their visa conditions until now have forbidden any paid work or access to training programs.
Those aged above 18 and subject to the new visa will not be allowed to study in Australia. This could mean asylum seeker children who have been in school may be forced to quit once they turn 18. Those under 18 will be allowed to stay in school.
“School-aged children will continue to have access to education while you are on a bridging visa living in the community. Please remind your children that they will also be required to abide by Australian values and laws. Breaking Australian laws may result in their removal from the community,” the Immigration department ‘s letter states.
The government will continue to provide some healthcare costs for those placed on the “final departure” visa and have access to a case officer.
Asylum seekers subject to the new visa conditions will be reminded that they are free to leave Australia at any time to return either to their home country or the offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island.
The asylum seeker welfare worker said those judged to be “less vulnerable” would be targeted with the new visa conditions first. The worker, who asked not to be identified, said at least half of those judged to be “less vulnerable” still had “serious needs”.
Most of the asylum seekers to be given the new class of visa on Monday are believed to live in Victoria and New South Wales.
The Immigration Minister’s office was contacted for comment.