Refugees settle in Australia in a variety of circumstances. Some people are granted permanent protection visas through the Humanitarian Program while living overseas (visa subclasses 200-204); others are asylum seekers who arrive in Australia with a valid visa and then apply for permanent protection (visa subclass 866).

  • People who receive permanent protection visas are entitled to permanent residency.
  • Asylum seekers arriving without a valid visa may only apply for temporary protection visas. For more information regarding asylum seekers in Australia see Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS).
  • Each year, the Australian Government allocates a set number of permanent visa places for people of refugee backgrounds. The Humanitarian Program allocation for 2018-19 was 18,750. The Program is currently on hold due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
  • Variations in the main countries of birth for Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program over two decades are shown in Table 1.
  • People who enter Australia with a Special Humanitarian Program visa (subclass 202) must be proposed by an Australian citizen, permanent resident of Australia, or an organisation operating in Australia.
  • Proposers are responsible for travel arrangements to Australia and providing settlement support when people arrive.
  • Holders of visa subclasses 200 and 204 are provided on-arrival support through the Australian Government’s Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP) for 6-12 months.
  • HSP services may be provided to visa subclass 202 arrivals when their proposer is unable to provide support.

For a full list of visa numbers, see Refugee and Humanitarian Program, Australian Government Department of Home Affairs.

Table 1: Top countries of birth for Refugee and Humanitarian Program entrants
  1. Bosnia-Herzegovina
  2. Iraq
  3. Former Yugoslavia
  4. Sri Lanka
  5. Croatia
  6. Vietnam
  7. Somalia
  8. Sudan
  9. Afghanistan
  1. Myanmar
  2. Iraq
  3. Sudan
  4. Afghanistan
  5. Democratic Republic of Congo
  6. Iran
  7. Thailand
  8. China
  9. Burundi
  1. Iraq
  2. Syria
  3. Afghanistan
  4. Myanmar
  5. Iran
  6. Thailand
  7. Eritrea
  8. Democratic Republic of Congo
  9. Nepal

Source: Australian Government Settlement Database 2018. Department of Social Services (Humanitarian Program).

Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Victoria

Around 4,000 refugees settle in Victoria each year through the Humanitarian Program, and during 2018 Victoria hosted over 14,000 asylum seekers.

In recent years, growing numbers of families have settled in Melbourne’s outer fringe suburbs and regional and rural LGAs such as Greater Geelong, Greater Shepparton and Greater Bendigo. The municipalities of Greater Dandenong, Brimbank and Whittlesea have the highest numbers of asylum seeker residents.

Humanitarian Program arrivals are typically young families.

During 2018, the greatest number of arrivals were in the early to mid-life age brackets, spanning 18-35 years of age, when typically they would be establishing working lives and starting families.

As shown in Table 2, children and young people are also highly represented in the arrival numbers (particularly 5-11 years old) -which highlights the opportunities for schools to support trauma recovery and settlement.

Table 2: 2018 Humanitarian Program arrivals in Victoria by age

Source: Australian Government Settlement Database 2019.

Newly arrived and more established families of refugee backgrounds are mostly living in Melbourne’s outer suburbs.

It is important for outer suburban schools to build partnerships with services and agencies  because newly arrived families look to schools  for community connections, advice and support.

Some schools act as community hubs by inviting families of refugee backgrounds to connect with each other  and access health, education and settlement support services on the school site. Other schools organise special activities to build connections and assist community members to access external services.

Partner agencies providing support to students and families include:

  • Local government.
  • Child, family, carer and multicultural services.
  • Youth, disability, financial and counselling services.
  • Health and wellbeing organisations and programs.
  • Out-of-school-hours programs.

Many Victorian regional and rural schools are enrolling students of refugee backgrounds for the first time.

Families move into regional and rural areas in three different settlement circumstances:

  • Direct settlement: where the regional centre is people’s first home in Victoria. During 2018, 19% of Humanitarian Program arrivals were directly settled in regional areas: notably, Geelong, Wodonga, Shepparton, Bendigo and Mildura .
  • Secondary settlement: where people have initially settled in Melbourne and then chosen to move to a regional centre. After initial settlement, some families, especially those with rural backgrounds, look to regional alternatives.
  • Temporary/itinerant stay: where asylum seekers and those on temporary protection visas move to find work while awaiting their protection application to be finalised. They will have a Bridging Visa E or a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV, subclass 790) and likely to move from place to place following work opportunities.

The DET Virtual EAL New Arrivals Program (VNAP) is available for students in Victorian rural schools who cannot access an English language school.

In Victoria, all asylum seeker children and young people of compulsory school age can enrol in regional and rural government schools and access fee exemptions. It is helpful for you to know each student’s situation and the level of support their family has access to. The degree to which families get properly resourced and supported in regional and rural settings impacts upon their engagement and wellbeing in schools.

Identifying Students of Refugee Backgrounds

Identifying Students of Refugee Backgrounds

You can ensure adequate supports are in place by identifying students and families of refugee backgrounds at enrolment including those seeking asylum.

What you can do

Collect basic information about the farnily without asking unnecessary and intrusive questions. There are simple indicators that a student may be of refugee background:

  • Country of birth (for students, parents and carers)
  • Exit reports and communication with the previous school
  • Year of arrival in Australia
  • Preferred language
  • Visa subclass (permanent visa humanitarian entrant: 200, 202, 204, 866; and asylum seekers with temporary visa: 785, 790)

Things to consider

  • Families who have come to Australia under another migration program may also have refugee backgrounds (e.g. skilled migrants from Iran).
  • People who have been in Australia for some time may not want to identify themselves as refugees or want to present visa number details.
  • If the country of origin is one that has a history of conflict and human rights violations, for example Afghanistan or Myanmar, the student is likely to be of refugee background.
  • Students may have been born in another country (e.g. in Kenya, Pakistan, Egypt, Thailand or Malaysia), which can suggest a refugee background.

Resource: Identifying Students of Refugee Backgrounds 

To access fee exemption, a student or family must provide evidence to the school that they have applied for a protection visa. For more information see the Victorian Government’s International Student Visa Fee Table.

Things to consider

  • Families will be extremely anxious about the outcome of their protection claims, and unable to plan for the future.
  • Students are likely to have adult-like caring responsibilities at home and may be affected by their parents’/carers’ trauma.
  • Some families may be reliant on charity for their shelter, food and medical care. If parents/carers do not have work rights, they will not have access to Medicare.
  • You can help ensure adequate supports are in place by identifying students and families who are asylum seekers at enrolment.

You may have students who are unaccompanied humanitarian minors (UHMs). They are people under 18 years of age who arrive in Australia without parents. Their parents may be dead, unable to care for them or cannot be found. These students are entitled to Victorian Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) support from the Refugee Minor Program (RMP) and are automatically allocated a case manager.

  • UHM non-wards have a close relative in Australia over the age of 21, who is able to accept care for them (e.g. uncle, aunt, older siblings).
  • UHM wards do not have a close relative (over 21 years of age) living in Australia that is able to accept care for them. Their guardianship is delegated to the Victorian DHHS.

You may also have unaccompanied minor students of refugee backgrounds who are not eligible for RMP support:

  • Unaccompanied asylum seeking minors are children and young people under the age of 18, who enter Australia without parents and apply for a protection visa. 
  • Unaccompanied minors sponsored on the Orphan Relative Visa (subclass 117) are children and young people who arrived in Australia as permanent residents on the Orphan Relative Visa after being sponsored by an adult relative in Australia (e.g. uncle, aunt, grandparent, sibling, or step equivalent).

Things to consider

  • Unaccompanied minor students are more likely to experience everyday worries and intrusive thoughts that disrupt their wellbeing.
  • Parents may be missing, so unaccompanied minors carry the responsibility of finding them (see Red Cross Tracing and restoring family links program).
  • Some students aged under 18 years will be attempting to sponsor their biological parents and/or siblings if they have been found.
  • Carers of unaccompanied minors are likely to need extra support.
  • Students living with carers may feel the burden to earn money, worry about carers being angry with them and splitting-up their carer’s family.

Resource: Supporting students who are seeking asylum