Politics Analysis

Asylum seekers hit new records despite increased processing

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The Albanese Government is pushing to keep on top of a backlog of visa applications (Screenshots via YouTube)

While the Government is working to keep on top of the asylum seeker backlog, the volume of applications continues to hit record highs. Dr Abul Rizvi reports.

THE NUMBER OF asylum seekers in Australia hit a new record of 114,006 at end May 2024 with a new record of 40,877 living in Australia who have been refused at both the primary level and at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

Last year, the Albanese Government allocated an additional $160 million to try and get on top of this issue. That has led to an increase in the monthly number of asylum cases processed at both the primary level and at the AAT.

(Data source: DHA)

At the primary level, asylum decisions made have averaged around 2,000 per month over the past four months. But the monthly asylum application rate has also increased to a similar level. As a result, the primary level backlog has been between 32,000 and 33,000 for the past six months.

The source country composition of new asylum applications suggests a switch from mainly people on visitor visas applying for asylum to mainly people on student visas. The lead source countries for an asylum application in May 2024 were China (314); Vietnam (182); Colombia (152); India (148); and Philippines (129).

As expected, there has been a substantial increase in asylum applications from those holding a Palestinian Authority travel document. Pacific Island nations continue to also be a major source of asylum applications reflecting issues with the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility visas.

Asylum at the AAT

Faster processing at the primary level is leading to increased asylum appeals to the AAT with the monthly asylum application rate to the Tribunal rising to around 1,500 per month after having been consistently less than 1,000 per month for most of 2022-23.

Additional funding was also allocated to the AAT to enable it to increase the processing of asylum appeals. That has led to a steady rise in asylum decisions made at the AAT rising from 890 in February 2024 to 2,446 in May 2024.

That development has enabled the AAT to reduce its backlog of asylum applications which had grown from around 5,000 in 2015-16 to almost 42,000 in March 2024. At end May 2024, that backlog had fallen to under 41,000. A small start but a start nonetheless.

(Data source: AAT statistics)

But to properly get on top of the issue, those asylum seekers who are refused at both the primary and AAT stages must either depart or be removed.

Removal of refused asylum seekers

After years of cutting resources for immigration compliance, the Albanese Government allocated a modest increase in funding for this function. That has enabled a small increase in refused asylum seekers being removed.

But with over 40,000 asylum seekers living in Australia who have been refused at both the primary level and at the AAT, and continuing to rise, the issue clearly has not been adequately addressed.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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