The ‘Fast Track’ Process for Refugees

In recent years, we have witnessed a stark – and growing – gap between how the Australian Government considers asylum seekers who arrive by boat and those who arrive by air.

Purportedly in an effort to defeat ‘people smuggling’ operations, the Australian Government, supported by the Opposition, have ratcheted up punitive measures to dissuade potential migrants from crossing to Australia by boat.

While arriving in Australia – or any country – to seek asylum is by no means illegal at international law, Australia has chosen to ignore this fact and persists in referring to boat-borne refugees as “illegal maritime arrivals”.

In order to handle a severe backlog of refugee visa applications, and to ensure that those arriving by boat were treated less favourably than all other regugee applicants, on 19 April 2015, the laws changed to enact a new ‘Fast Track’ process.

Key elements:

The ‘fast track’ catches asylum seekers who arrived by boat between 13 August 2012 and 1 January 2014 (arrivals after this date are sent straight to regional processing centres at a matter of course).

Fast track arrivals are no longer eligible to apply for a permanent visa – they must choose between applying for a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV). This includes individuals who had already been approved for the grant of a permanent visa, but were delayed (e.g. awaiting a police clearance).

Fast track arrivals must make a new application, which for many means a number of additional years spent waiting for a visa outcomes.

Fast track arrivals have no appeal rights to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal – a new body, the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA), has been set up to deal with these claims more quickly. Decisions of the IAA cannot be appealed and the IAA will not consider any new information.

If an application for a TPV or SHEV is refused, it will automatically by referred to the IAA.


The two available visas under the fast track are the TPV and SHEV. They have a number of common elements:

  • Both are temporary (TPV – 3 years, SHEV – 5 years)
  • Both allow the holder to work, study and access Medicare and limited Centrelink benefits
  • Both have an application fee of $35.

There are a number of important differences, however:

  • At the end of a TPV, a TPV holder may only apply for another TPV or SHEV. There is no pathway to a permanent visa from a TPV.
  • The holder of a SHEV is required to spend a minimum of 3.5 years during the 5 years’ validity of their visa living, and either working or studying, in a “designated regional area” and not access certain Centrelink payments (including Special Benefit).
  • If the SHEV holder meets these requirements they will be eligible to apply for a range of other visas (including permanent visas) for which they meet the eligibility criteria.

What is meant by a ‘Designated Regional Area’?

These areas are specified by Parliament on nomination of the States and Territories. At the time of writing, the following areas are considered ‘regional’ for the purposes of the SHEV:

  • New South Wales (excluding Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and the Central Coast)
  • The Australian Capital Territory
  • Tasmania
  • South Australia
  • Western Australia (excluding Perth)
  • Victoria (excluding Melbourne and some other areas – but including Geelong).

A list of postcodes is available from the Department of Immigration.