Major acceleration in processing of asylum seekers

Apr 22, 2024
Immigration in Australia concept. Different passports on Australian flag. 3d illustration

In the last three months, processing of primary level asylum seeker applications increased from 1,002 in December 2023; to 1,479 in January 2024 and 2,037 in February 2024 (see Chart 1).

Applications processed exceeded new applications lodged in February 2024 for the first time since early 2022 when international borders re-opened and new applications again surged off the back of a massive backlog, very slow processing times, inadequate processing resources and a huge cut back in immigration compliance resources.

Source: DHA website, onshore protection Image: Supplied

This rise in primary applications processed would reflect an increase in trained processing staff associated with the Government’s $160 million package to address the growing number of unresolved asylum seeker cases which has now reached a record 110,711. That includes 36,608 applications that have been refused at both the primary level and at the AAT but have still not departed Australia.

The $160 million package is the first time the Government has explicitly sought to address the huge surge in unmeritorious asylum applications that started in 2015-16 via a massive labour trafficking scam.

The main source nations for primary asylum applications of 1,792 in February 2024 were China (182); Vietnam (151); India (147); Philippines (120) and Vanuatu (91).

Two new source nations that entered the top ten in February 2024 were the Palestinian Authority (88) and Colombia (49). The former would be due to the conflict in Gaza while the latter may reflect the large increase in student visa holders from Colombia, tightening of on shore student visa application processes and closure of the covid visa.

Asylum applications from Pacific Island nations continues at a high but stable rate. These have a very low approval rate.

Asylum applications at the AAT

Growth in asylum applications at the AAT continued in February 2024 with 948 new applications (highest this financial year) and 890 decisions (also the highest this year).

Total undecided asylum applications at the AAT hit a new record of 41,648 (see Chart 2). Even with the additional funds allocated to the AAT to process its asylum backlog more quickly, the faster processing at the primary stage is likely to new asylum applications to the AAT will remain high and the backlog at the AAT will continue to grow for much of 2024.

Source: AAT Annual Reports and Caseload Statistics Image: Supplied


Removal of unsuccessful asylum seekers remains modest (less than 15 per month) as the additional funds for immigration compliance provided in the 2023 Budget was only sufficient to get this function back to the level it was when it started to be cut from 2016-17. The current Deportation Bill, even if it is passed in some modified form, would make little practical difference given the volume of the challenge.

Australians will have to learn to accept that a large asylum caseload living in the Australian community, including a rising number of refused asylum seekers living in the shadows of society (currently over 36,000), will be part of our future.

What the Government’s $160 million strategy may do is limit the rate of growth in this phenomenon. It is well short of the level of funds needed to address the overall situation after Peter Dutton neglected to deal with it when it first took off in 2015-16. It would have been far less expensive to deal with the labour trafficking scam when it first started compared to now.

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