Get in the loop about off shore refugee visas

Publish Date: Aug 02, 2011

Australia’s humanitarian program consists of two streams, one offshore and one onshore, and is designed to enable resettlement of overseas people in Australia who have humanitarian needs. It also allows Australia to protect those already in the country who are seeking refugee status under the UN Convention. This article will focus on the offshore program.

Offshore – what does it mean?

Offshore applicants may apply as “refugees” which requires them to be outside their country of nationality or usual residence and they must have suffered persecution or hold a well founded fear of persecution for reasons set out in the UN Convention.

A second option is available under the “special humanitarian” program for people, while not being refugees, that are outside their country of nationality or usual residence and who have been subject to substantial discrimination which would amount to a gross violation of their human rights. Applicants under the special humanitarian program must be supported by someone resident in Australia, eligible New Zealand citizen, or an Australian organisation.

Applicant assessments

Applicants must also satisfy the decision maker that there are compelling reasons for giving special consideration to the grant of a visa. This criterion is common to all permanent visa subclasses under the offshore Humanitarian Program. It involves an assessment of various factors including:


• the degree of persecution or discrimination to which the applicant is subject in their home country
• the extent of the applicant’s connection with Australia
• whether or not there is any suitable country available, other than Australia, that can provide for the applicant’s settlement and protection from discrimination
• the capacity of the Australian community to provide for the permanent settlement of persons such as the applicant in Australia.
• Most humanitarian visas are granted to applicants who are outside their home country. If a person is living in their home country, it is unlikely that they will meet the criteria to be granted a refugee or humanitarian visa.

Proposing visa applicants

The holder of any permanent humanitarian visa (including Permanent Protection visas) in Australia can propose their immediate family members for entry to Australia through the offshore Humanitarian Program. A proposer is not required for a person to be considered for the grant of a Refugee visa. However, a proposer may support a Refugee visa application. This allows a more accurate assessment to be made of the applicant’s settlement prospects in Australia.

Which visas are available?

Refugee Visa subclass 200
This visa is for people who are subject to persecution in their home country and are in need of resettlement. The majority of applicants who are considered under this category are identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and referred to the Australian Government by the UNHCR.

In-country Special Humanitarian Program Visa (Subclass 201)
This visa offers resettlement to people who have suffered persecution in their country of nationality or usual residence and who have not been able to leave that country to seek refuge elsewhere. It is for those living in their home country and subject to persecution in their home country.

Global Special Humanitarian Program Visa (Subclass 202)
The Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) visa is for people who, while not being refugees, are subject to substantial discrimination and human rights abuses in their home country. People who wish to be considered for a SHP visa must be proposed for entry by an Australian citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18, an eligible New Zealand citizen or an organisation operating in Australia.

Emergency Rescue Visa (Subclass 203)
This visa offers an accelerated processing arrangement for people who satisfy refugee criteria and whose lives or freedom depend on urgent resettlement. It is for those subject to persecution in their home country and assessed to be in a situation such that delays due to normal processing could put their life or freedom in danger.

Woman at Risk Visa (Subclass 204)
This visa is for female applicants, and their dependents, who are subject to persecution or are of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are living outside their home country without the protection of a male relative and are in danger of victimisation, harassment or serious abuse because of their gender. The majority of applicants who are considered under this category are identified and referred to the Australian Government by the UNHCR.

Australia’s migration programs and laws are complex and are frequently changing. It is always advisable to contact a lawyer who is up to date with the latest criteria, charges, processing times, necessary supporting documentation and review processes to ensure visa applications are adequately applied.

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