Australia’s Humanitarian Program is a stream of the country's migration program. The onshore program settles refugees who make a successful claim for asylum after they arrive in Australia and the offshore program settles people who are found to be refugees or subject to substantial discrimination in another country, before they come to Australia. 

The number of people granted visas through this program has fluctuated over time. Following the change of government in September 2013, the number of places in the Humanitarian Program was reduced from 20,000 to 13,750. However on 4 December 2014, as part of a deal to pass legislation, the Australian Parliament agreed to increase the intake of refugees, so that by 2018–19 there will be 18,750 places.

Not included in this total number are people who arrived to Australia without a valid visa (either by boat or plane) and are found to engage Australia's non-refoulement obligations, who are now granted a Temporary Protection Visa.

In 2013–14, there were 13,764 visas granted under Australia’s Humanitarian Program.   

Since 1996–97 the Australian Government has numerically linked the onshore and offshore humanitarian programs, which means that the number of places in the offshore refugee resettlement program is directly influenced by the number of people found to be refugees via the onshore program. 

With the introduction of the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Act 2014 in December 2014, the Minister for Immigration has the power to cap the number of Permanent Protection visas allocated in any financial year. 

Offshore Program

People settled in Australia via the offshore program are in two categories:

  • Refugee category: people who have been recognised as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
  • Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) category: people who are subject to substantial discrimination in their home country.

In 2013–14, under the offshore component of Australia’s Humanitarian Program, 6501 Refugee visas were granted. In this same time there were 4515 offshore resettlement visas granted to people through the Special Humanitarian Program category, who had their cases put forward by permanent residents of Australia or Australian-based community organisations.

The majority of people issued with offshore resettlement visas had their cases put forward by UNHCR, and were in regional posts in the Middle East (56.8%), Asia (34.4%) and Africa (8.8%) when their visas were granted.

Of those who received visas through the offshore program in 2013-14, the most common countries of birth were Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Syria and Bhutan.

Onshore Program

The onshore program processes asylum seekers who apply for protection on or after arrival in Australia. Asylum seekers in the onshore program either arrive by boat (characterised as “Illegal Maritime Arrivals “(IMA)) or by plane (characterised as “non - Illegal Maritime Arrivals” or Authorised Air Arrivals).

Those who arrive by plane generally come to Australia on a tourist or working visa and apply for asylum after they arrive. Those who arrive by boat generally arrive without a visa and are subject to processes according to the Australian Government’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy. They are not included in the numbers recorded for the onshore component of the Humanitarian Program.

In 2013-14, there were 2207 protection visas granted to asylum seekers who arrived by plane and 545 granted to asylum seekers who arrived by boat.   

Updated 2 August 2015

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