Border officials are refusing entry to 20 Malaysians at Australian airports every week, to address what has been dubbed an “orchestrated scam” to gain access to the country. Malaysians can visit Australia once they have applied for a tourist visa online. Once in Australia, thousands are applying for protection visas, allowing them to stay and work during the application and appeal process.
In cases where authorities have rejected the protection visas, the Malaysians have appealed against the decision and extended their stays in the process.
The Government’s latest strategy to address the influx has emerged in new information being released as part of Senate estimates.
Between July 2017 and February 2019 1,779 Malaysians had their visas cancelled before clearing immigration — more than 20 each week.
This represents almost one third of all removals, even though Malaysia provides fewer than one in 20 tourists to Australia.
Refugee Council concerned
Jason Wood, the new Minister for Multicultural Affairs, speaking before he took on that role, said the Malaysian visitors were making a bid to work around existing visa laws.
“This represents an orchestrated scam that provides protection visa applicants the right to work in Australia until their claims are finalised,” Mr Wood said.
At the end of 2018, of approximately 10,000 electronic visa holders who had overstayed their visa, three-quarters were from Malaysia.
The Government is now refusing entry to hundreds of Malaysians each year before they clear immigration at airports.
The trend is “concerning” due a lack of transparency, according to Asher Hirsch, a senior policy officer at the Refugee Council.
“While legislation and the department’s policy says that people who claim asylum at the airport must be allowed to lodge a protection application, we have heard worrying stories from lawyers and refugees themselves of people being returned at the border without the chance to apply for asylum,” he said.
“While not every person who seeks asylum at an Australian airport will be a refugee, without a proper assessment of their claims there is a very real risk that we are sending people back to harm.”
Link to Online Visa
The electronic visa, officially called an “electronic travel authority”, was made available to Malaysians in 1997.
Surges in visitors applying for protection visas have occurred before, such as during the late 1990s Asian economic crisis, but the recent influx is significant.
About 1,400 protection visa lodgements came from Malaysians while they were in Australia in 2014-15.
The following year, the number increased to about 3,500, before surging to 8,600 in 2016-17. The lodgements then grew to 9,300 last year.
Many of these people are appealing the rejection of their protection claims, allowing them to stay in Australia — often for two years or more — with full work rights.
Defending these appeals has cost taxpayers close to $50 million in the past three years.
A parliamentary committee, which Mr Wood chaired in February, recommended that electronic visa holders who lodged a protection visa application be “fast-tracked” and have limited rights to appeal.
The Government is yet to respond to these recommendations.
Better than boats?
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, two weeks ago, played down the problem of airport arrivals compared to boat arrivals.
“If you’ve hopped onto a plane, you’ve got travel documents. We know who you are,” he said.
“We’re able to work with Interpol or the country of origin to determine whether that person is a threat. We can look properly at their backgrounds.
“We don’t have people drowning on planes coming in to Australia.
“We are able to manage because we have airport liaison officers in Dubai, in major hub ports, so that we can offload people where we know there is a threat.
“And people who come, where they have genuine documentation, we can deal with them.”
Mr Dutton said 90 per cent of air arrivals had claims for protection rejected.