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Australia to Toughen Asylum-Seeker Visa Laws

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December 4, 2014

Image: Australian Customs and Border Protection

By Jason Scott

Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) — Australia’s Senate voted early today to support legislation backed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott that denies asylum seekers arriving by boat the right to permanent visas.

Under the new law, some asylum seekers will be granted temporary protection visas valid for three years. The changes will resolve the status of thousands of applicants, some of whom are now in overseas detention centers, according to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

The passage of the law is a win for Abbott’s coalition, which says it’s fulfilling an election campaign pledge to “stop the boats” amid hundreds of deaths at sea and an influx of refugees under the previous government. His administration, trailing in polls after introducing spending cuts, has had other bills blocked in the upper house, where it needs to negotiate with cross bench lawmakers.

The temporary visas will only apply to the 30,000 asylum seekers who arrived under the life of the previous legislation, according to the government. New arrivals automatically will be transferred to offshore detention camps.

Enough of the eight cross bench upper house lawmakers voted today to support the government’s Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Legacy Caseload Bill), several days after a bill to let universities set their own fees was blocked. Parliament is due to go on recess after this week until February.

The migration bill will see Australia increase its refugee and humanitarian intake by 7,500 places by the end of the decade at a cost of more than A$100 million ($84 million), Morrison told reporters Dec. 3 in Canberra. Asylum seekers will be able to work under the temporary visas, he said.

People intercepted in Australian waters are now either returned to their nation of origin or detained in offshore processing camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Those seeking to enter Australia by boat and without visas often come from conflict-affected Middle Eastern and South Asian nations.

The government’s policy has resulted in no boats arriving in Australia in all but one month this year, Morrison said Dec. 3. Almost 1,200 asylum seekers died at sea under the previous Labor government, he said.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.

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