Bridging visa holders have received letters from immigration, inviting them to apply for a temporary protection visa. This is called the “fast track process” and was implemented to deal with the vast numbers of people who were languishing in the detention centres and living in the community on Bridging Visas; approximately 30,000.
It is however not a fast process and people wait for months on end to receive their files from Freedom of Information, to see a lawyer, to be granted an interview and then to be given a decision. All legal support for this process was withdrawn from applicants except for the most vulnerable.
To submit an application each person must complete an extensive questionnaire consisting of over 100 questions. All answers must be written in English. A written statement must accompany the application stating in as much detail as possible all the reasons why the person had to leave their country and why they are seeking protection. The application must also prove with researched evidence why it is unsafe to return to their country of origin.
All supporting documents and ID must be translated into English by a professional translator. All information in the applications must be consistent with information provided during the first interview with immigration upon arriving in Australia. This interview was done when people disembarked from a terrifying boat journey. People were hungry, sick, tired, sunburnt and confused and had little understanding of what was happening.
There are 2 types of temporary visas available; a temporary protection visa (TPV) and a safe haven enterprise visa (SHEV).
The process of applying for a temporary protection visa is complex and time consuming. This is the one and only chance for a person to apply and no additional information can be added once the application is submitted. It is therefore vital that the person has legal advice and support to submit their best application possible.
When English is not your first language, understanding and navigating the way through these applications is terribly complicated. Legal assistance is necessary to ensure applicants understand what is required of them, what documents are needed and what information should be included to verify the information on the applicant’s immigration files.
The 2 legal clinics who worked with people to do their applications are RAILS (Refugee and Immigration Legal Service) through their Unrepresented Asylum Seeker Clinic, and Salvos Asylum Seeker Clinic. Both clinics offered part time services utilising volunteers, research assistants, pro bono lawyers and migration agents. Funding for these services was withdrawn by Federal Government. The cost of engaging a private lawyer or migration agent is around $4000 minimum, which is beyond the means of most people on Bridging Visas who are living way below the poverty line.
Indooroopilly Uniting Church Asylum Seeker Clinic provided assistance to people to fill in the application form, apply for their FOI and translate documents. They continue to assist people with forms to lodge an appeal against their negative decisions. This clinic can only operate with the help of dedicated volunteers.
Last year immigration stipulated that all applications must be received by 1st October. Many people were on long waiting lists to see a lawyer and there was an urgency to complete applications and submit them. The legal clinics in Brisbane met this demand with the help of fundraising campaigns and the vast majority of people received the support of a lawyer to submit their applications on time.
People’s applications are now being processed with a significant number being rejected. Their future is uncertain with all financial support withdrawn. They live in the stressful state of limbo.