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Refugee Visas

In Australia, refugees are eligible to apply for refugee visas under the Australia’s Special Humanitarian Programme (SHP), which is part of the international protection of refugees.

Some recent changes to the programme for refugee visas include an increase of numbers for resettlement, which are available to family members of those that have already entered Australia and have obtained a refugee visa. This is designed to allow people to be reunited with their families.

There are two types of SHP refugee visas being:

  • the Offshore Resettlement, and
  • the Onshore Protection visa.

Both of these have various subclasses of visas. The correct visa for you to apply for will depend on whether you are a refugee, or not, and whether you are in or outside of Australia at the time of making the visa application.

Refugee Visas in Australia

Offshore Resettlement Visa

The Offshore Resettlement Program has two categories. The first is the refugee category, and the second is the special humanitarian program (SHP) category. 

The refugee category is for those that are subject to persecution in their home country. The SHP category is for those who are not refugees, but are subject to discrimination, and violation of their human rights.

To be eligible you must be living outside of your home country and you must be proposed by an Australian citizen, permanent resident, or Australian organisation. The different subclasses of visas available under these two categories include:

  • the Refugee Visa (subclass 200), most of the applications have already been identified by the United High Commissioner for Refugees and referred to the Australian Government
  • the In-country Special Humanitarian Programme Visa (subclass 201), which is for people who are still residing in their country and have been unable to leave
  • the Global Special Humanitarian Programme Visa (subclass 202), which is for non-refugees
  • the Emergency Rescue Visa (subclass 203), which is an accelerated processing arrangement for those that satisfy the refugee criteria and in immediate danger, and
  • the Women at Risk Visa (subclass 204), which is for female applicants defined as refugees who do not have the protection of a partner, or relative and are in danger of victimisation.

Onshore Protection Visa

The Onshore Protection Visa is for people who are already in Australia and want to apply for protection, or asylum. This visa is known as the Protection Visa (Class XA) (subclass 866). To be granted this visa you must meet the definition of a refugee set out in the Refugees Convention, and meet the Complementary Protection criteria in the Migration Act 1958.  If you are granted with a Protection Visa then you will have a permanent right to stay in Australia allowing you to work, study, access Medicare, and receive Social Security payments.

Proposing an Applicant

All applicants who apply under these visa classes need to be proposed by an Australian citizen, a permanent resident, or by an Australian organisation. 

The proposer is responsible for the visa holders travel costs, and must pay for them to travel to Australia. The Government will pay for any medical examinations required for the visa.

When the visa holder arrives in Australia the proposer is required to assist them in their settlement. The proposer should meet them at the airport, provide immediate accommodation, help them to find long term accommodation, and help to familiarise them with the available service providers such as banks, Centrelink, Medicare, and schools etc.

If the proposer cannot afford to pay for the travel to Australia, then they can apply to the IOM No-Interest Loan Scheme, which can assist in paying up to 75% of travel costs. A payment arrangement is then entered into by either the proposer, or visa holder. The IOM can also assist with travel arrangements, and provide advice and support to assist getting the visa holder to Australia.


Michelle Makela

Michelle Makela is one of our Legal Practice Directors and the National Practice Manager. She holds a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Master’s in Criminology. Michelle has had a varied career, working in commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning. Michelle joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2011. She now supervises a team of over 80 solicitors across Australia.

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