For all the government’s tough-on-asylum-seekers rhetoric, protection visa applications have blown out to record numbers on Peter Dutton’s watch.
The people smugglers are doing more business than ever. The difference is that their clients are arriving by plane rather than boat and are less likely to be genuine refugees.
The Home Affairs Department website shows 27,931 protection visa applications were made in the latest financial year by plane arrivals.
The previous record number of asylum seekers was 26,845 in the 2012-13 financial year when 18,365 protection visa applications were made for boat arrivals and 8480 for those who came by plane.
Over the weekend, the federal government continued its campaign of trying to paint Labor as “soft” on border protection, feeding compliant media outlets with allegations that admitting a relatively small number of asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island on medical grounds would mean people convicted of murder and rape could enter Australia.
But in the past four years since the government “stopped the boats”, 64,362 protection visa applications have been made by unvetted individuals who have arrived by plane while Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton were the relevant ministers.
That compares with a total of 44,581 protection visa applications for boat arrivals over the previous five years.
And a former Immigration Department deputy secretary, Abul Rizvi, predicts the latest record will be broken this financial year, blaming the surge on the “chaos” in Mr Dutton’s Home Affairs department. Most of the new wage of protection visa applicants are arriving on visitor visas and then lodging appeals as asylum seekers.
“Home Affairs is reducing frontline staff and IT contractors,” he wrote.
“Outsourcing visa processing will make the problem worse. Tackling the chaos in our visa processing system will cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly north of a billion dollars and take many years. Is the government’s border protection mantra a diversion from its real border-protection failings?”
Mr Rizvi retired as Immigration Department deputy secretary in 2007. He was awarded the Public Service Medal and the Centenary Medal for services to development and implementation of immigration policy.
He has blown the whistle on protection visa applications and the resurgence of people smugglers via John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations public policy website.
Using Home Affairs figures, Mr Rizvi showed people smugglers are exploiting the increased delays in processing visa applications since Mr Dutton has been the relevant minister.
The big increase in protection visa applications over the past two years has mainly come from citizens of China, Malaysia and India. The department eventually finds most of the applications to be “unmeritorious”, but the processing and appeals process has become so slow that the individuals can be exploited here for three years on low wages or as sex workers before a final determination is reached.
This surge “requires a significant degree of organisation”, Mr Rizvi wrote.
The smugglers must be aware of the “paralysis” in the Home Affairs department due to a “massive” application backlog, and must be savvily navigating the extremely complex application process, he wrote.
In the latest financial year, 9315 people from China and 9319 from Malaysia made non-boat arrival protection visa applications. Mr Rizvi notes that only 2 per cent of the Malaysian applications are eventually found to have merit.
“People smugglers bringing in vulnerable people to work on farms, sex shops, etc is not a new phenomenon,” he wrote.
“Experienced immigration officers have understood this risk for at least two decades. But the current Home Affairs Department has few experienced immigration officers left, with many having been driven out by the current leadership.
“As with people smugglers bringing in people on boats, the key to minimising a surge in ‘unmeritorious’ protection visa applications is to minimise the value of the product people smugglers can sell.”
So much for stopping the smugglers.