Identification of strategies to assist refugee young people in transition to independence

Overview of current federal services and programs

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Overview of current federal services and programs

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA)

The Department of Immigration was established in 1945 and has since undergone several name and portfolio changes. In November 2001 it became the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs with a mission, among other things, to recognise that Australia is ‘enriched through the entry and settlement of people’. Funding and reporting is organised on a program basis, and the Department’s activities are divided into nine divisions, including the Refugee and Humanitarian Division. The Refugee and Humanitarian Division manages the resettlement of people under the government’s Humanitarian Program and provides advice to government on the size and composition of the program, being responsible for ensuring policy is in accordance with international obligations. Resettlement activities comprise a complex and interconnected series of services and program initiatives. These services constitute the backbone of the service infrastructure available to refugees, at least in the initial period of settlement.

The service infrastructure administered by DIMIA is briefly described in Table 7. With the full-scale introduction of Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS) in 2001, certain services for humanitarian entrants coordinated by DIMIA such as the Community Refugee Settlement Services (CRSS) and On Arrival Accommodation (OAA) were phased out and replaced by new services under the Strategy (listed earlier in this chapter). DIMIA has contracted a number of providers to deliver these services.

Table 7: Description of DIMIA programs and services

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS)

TIS assists the settlement of migrants by providing language services that facilitate their equitable access to government and community services. It does this on both a cost and fee-free basis. A fee-free interpreting service is provided to certain English speaking residents and groups in the community who provide settlement related services, to communicate with non-English speaking permanent visa holders and Australian citizens. The groups eligible for these services are medical practitioners, parliamentarians, trade unions, local government authorities and some non-government organizations. DIMIA also provides a fee-free service for extract translations of eligible personal documents for permanent visa holders and Australian citizens during their first two years of permanent residency in Australia through TIS. TIS provides services on a fee-for-service basis to individuals, Commonwealth and state and territory government agencies, community organizations and private sector businesses and organizations in relation to commercial transactions.

Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP)

The Adult Migrant English Program ensures that refugees and humanitarian entrants (as well as all other migrants) have access to English language tuition soon after arrival in Australia. Students receive tuition in a competency-based curriculum for a total of 510 hours or when a functional level of English is reached (whichever is earlier).

Community Settlement Services Scheme (CSSS)

The CSSS provides grants to not-for-profit community and service organizations to deliver settlement services to refugees, humanitarian entrants, and migrants. The CSSS funds projects that fill gaps in mainstream service provision, as well as projects that encourage mainstream service providers to accept responsibility and respond appropriately to their diverse client base. CSSS projects involve direct service provision, facilitating client access to mainstream services, and community participation in planning and delivery of services. The CSSS replaced the previous Grant in Aid scheme in 1998.

Migrant Resource Centres (MRCs) and Migrant Service Agencies (MSAs)

MRCs and MRAs provide a base to deliver, support and attract settlement services for migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants. They provide multilingual information, advice and referral services, develop specific services to meet the needs of migrants, and provide a base for communities’ educational, cultural and social activities. They also promote awareness of migrants’ needs in Australian society. There are 30 MRCs and 4 MSAs in Australia.

Immigration Advisory Services Scheme (IASS)

The Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS) has been in existence since late 1997 when the Application Assistance Scheme and the Immigration Advisory Scheme were merged. IAAAS provides application assistance to protection visa (PV) applicants in immigration detention, disadvantaged PV applicants (including temporary protection visa holders) in the community, and disadvantaged non-PV applicants in the community. It also provides immigration advice to disadvantaged members of the community. In 2000-01, IAAAS service providers provided assistance to 4,377 cases of new asylum seekers in detention, 337 new protection visa and 89 other new visa applicants in the community. Assistance and advice is funded by the Commonwealth at no cost to the applicant and is delivered by 20 service providers throughout Australia.

Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors Scheme

In past years, there have been large intakes of unaccompanied humanitarian minors, predominantly from Indo-China, but this is no longer a policy priority. Following a review in 1993, the Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors Scheme has been wound down. In the Review, it was recommended that where numbers of arrivals fell below eight in any state, the Scheme would close (Refugee Resettlement Working Group 1994). There are still some young people who enter Australia unaccompanied and/or whose care arrangements break down upon arrival, however, their number is small. DIMIA shares with state welfare authorities the cost of settling unaccompanied humanitarian minors, unless they number less than eight, in which case the state bears full responsibility.

Department of Family and Community Services (DFaCS)

Youth Bureau

Following the federal election in November 2001, the Youth Bureau was re-located to the Department of Family and Community Services (DFaCS). Prior to this, youth affairs had been part of the education and training portfolio. The aims of the Youth Bureau are:

to ensure that the Government’s policies improve life prospects for all young people through improved coordination at Commonwealth and state levels, communication and consultation with young people, delivery of programmes and services for young people, promotion of positive perceptions of young people in the community, promotion of accredited development opportunities for young people and the provision of national leadership on youth issues.

With its new mandate for youth affairs, DFaCS could be expected to accept a lead role in developing and coordinating strategies to support young refugees beyond the initial settlement phase and in their longerterm transition to independence.

Job Placement Employment and Training (JPET) program

As part of its new responsibility for youth affairs, DFaCS administers the Job Placement, Employment and Training (JPET) program. The objective of JPET is to assist young people who face multiple barriers to participate in education or vocational training by the provision of intensive support. In addition to the program’s overall focus on homeless young people, it targets several client groups, including young people from refugee backgrounds. The definition of ‘refugee’ employed by the program is outlined in Chapter 3. Several JPET providers focus specifically on refugee young people. JPET is an important program, not only because of its direct support for young people from refugee backgrounds, but because in many respects it serves as a model of best practice in addressing the needs of this client group (see Chapter 6).

Income support

Following a Commonwealth departmental restructure in 1997, responsibility for the design and provision of income support according to the Social Security Act 1991 was moved from the Department of Social Security to the family and health services portfolio. At the same time, service delivery was contracted out to Centrelink (see below). DFaCS’s responsibility for income support policy is of particular significance to meeting the needs of young refugees and their families because of the disadvantage these people experience in the labour market. Young people in particular, whether on their own behalf or within a family unit, are likely to rely at least partially on financial assistance for several years into their settlement. However, not all young people from refugee backgrounds are eligible for mainstream income support payments (see Table 8).

The income support payment of greatest relevance to young people as applicants in their own right is Youth Allowance. The introduction of Youth Allowance by DFaCS (in July 1998) represents the biggest shift in income support policy for young people in 20 years. Youth Allowance replaced several existing payment types including AUSTUDY for full-time students aged under 25 years, Sickness Allowance for those under 21, and Youth Training Allowance and Newstart Allowance for unemployed young people under 18 and 21 respectively. Youth Allowance is a means-tested payment for young people between the ages of 16 and 25 years who are studying, training, seeking employment, or temporarily unable to work. In order to receive Youth Allowance a young person has to meet a number of obligations collectively known as the activity test. Undertaking full-time education or training, looking for work, or undertaking a combination of activities may fulfill the Youth Allowance activity test. Young people with low levels of proficiency in English could undertake an English as a Second Language (ESL) course, to satisfy the activity test. An exemption from the activity test may be given if the young person has special circumstances.

Since January 1999, young people aged under 18 who have not completed Year 12 or equivalent must generally be in full-time study or training to qualify for Youth Allowance (DFaCS 2001, p.17). Exemptions can be made where this requirement for full-time study is seen as unreasonable, for example, where the young person lacks stable accommodation, has caring responsibilities, or is unable to find a place in a suitable education or training program. Of particular relevance here, an exemption from this requirement can also be made in recognition of the refugee status of the applicant. At August 2001, some 38 young people under the age of 18 in receipt of Youth Allowance were granted temporary exemption from full-time study on the grounds that they were refugees prior to making their claim (DFaCS 2001, p.19).

Supported Accommodation and Assistance Program

DFaCS, in conjunction with the states and territories, administers the Supported Accommodation and Assistance Program (SAAP) for homeless people. SAAP enables those experiencing homelessness to access accommodation support, in the form of refuges (crisis accommodation) and transitional medium- to longterm accommodation, or support without accommodation. Several housing programs, notably in Melbourne, have developed expertise in working with young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, including young refugees.

Department of Education, Training and Science (DEST)

Despite the removal of the Youth Bureau from the DEST portfolio, DEST maintains an important role in youth affairs reflecting the centrality of education and training to youth policy. Access to appropriate education is an important component of any plan for enabling a successful transition to independence for young refugees. Education is the responsibility of state governments, but DEST has carriage of this program area at the federal level. Young refugees typically encounter the Australian education system through English Language Centres, then mainstream schools, or Adult Migrant English Programs (funded by DIMIA) and TAFE institutions. The department directly assists young refugees by providing funding to state departments of education for English language tuition in schools. English language tuition in schools is only available to young people aged 18 years or under in some states but other states allow those aged 19 or over to access this support as well. In addition to schools, DEST has responsibility for a range of youth-focused vocational, training and apprentice schemes, and administers the Jobs Pathway Programme.
Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR)

Job Network and employment support

As the department responsible for employment policy and for the oversight of services to assist job seekers, DEWR has considerable potential to impact on young refugees. The macro-system for delivery of employment support services in Australia underwent significant reform, particularly during 1997 and 1998 with the advent of corporatisation and the introduction of marketplace competition. Centrelink has been contracted by the department to administer access for job seekers to the Job Network – a network of private, community and government organisations contracted by government to help people find employment. Job seekers are currently able to secure assistance at one of three levels:

  • Job Matching: to help unemployed people find a job;

  • Job Search Training: to help eligible job seekers improve their job search techniques; and

  • Intensive Assistance: which provides individualised assistance to those job seekers who are long-term unemployed or otherwise disadvantaged and who are receiving an income support payment from Centrelink. Within Intensive Assistance, job seekers are classified into a further three funding levels (DEERSB 1998).

The Job Seeker Classification Instrument (JSCI) determines the level of employment support required by job seekers. The JSCI is a computer-based tool comprising 16 factors. A final score derived from combining responses to each item determines eligibility for Job Network services. Refugee status as such is not a factor in the JSCI; however, country of origin and English language proficiency are included. Further, a secondary process of classification is activated where job seekers are seen to experience a disadvantage requiring professional or specialist judgement. Torture and trauma is given as an example of this kind of disadvantage. As part of its oversight of the implementation of JSCI, DEWR has given a commitment that refugee and humanitarian visa holders from certain refugee-producing countries specified by DIMIA will be referred to a Migrant Liaison Officer or an occupational psychologist as a matter of course (DEWRSB 1998). In theory, therefore, the JSCI classifies individuals with refugee experiences at the higher levels, thus ensuring access to the most comprehensive array of support services. Again, not all people from refugee backgrounds are eligible for this support.
Department of Health and Aged Care (DHAC)

In addition to its responsibility for Medicare, the Department of Health and Aged Care administers several areas of policy development and social programs that are directly relevant to the welfare of young refugees. The most significant macro-level policy is the national health policy for children and young people endorsed by the Australian Health Ministers Conference in 1995. This policy explicitly recognises that ‘there is an increasingly diverse and rich cultural mix in the Australian population with correspondingly diversified attitudes to health and health care’ and further, that ‘young refugees ... have particular needs, their experiences often contributing to mental health problems and requiring special support’. The department also has responsibility for the National Non-English Speaking Backgrounds Sexual Health Strategy; however, it is unclear to what extent young refugees have been targeted under this strategy. The department also funds the Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma discussed later in this chapter.
Attorney-General’s Department

The Attorney-General’s Department has a relatively minor role to play in providing direct support to young refugees. Community Legal Centres are mainstream services that provide generic support to anyone in the community with legal problems. However, in 1996–97, Community Legal Centres signed a new service agreement that committed each Legal Centre to the Commonwealth Access and Equity Strategy.

The Attorney General’s Department also funds a number of welfare rights organisations in several states, notably Victoria and New South Wales. These organisations have shown considerable interest in inequities in income support entitlements for new arrivals, and in the impact of Youth Allowance. They are able to offer case management support for people whose welfare rights appear to have been denied.


All government social security payments (and related services) are provided through Centrelink, a statutory authority currently within the DFaCS portfolio. This means that Centrelink is responsible on a day-to-day basis for implementing equity and access policy with respect to the delivery of critical payments and services, including income support and the coordination of services under the Job Network.

One mechanism relevant to this goal is Centrelink’s Multilingual Telephone Information Service, which can give information about social security payments in the inquirer’s own language from anywhere in Australia for the cost of a local call.

Visa classification and eligibility for support

The rights and entitlements of young refugees living in. Australia are dependent on their residency status and visa classification. As explained in Chapter 2, young people with refugee experiences enter or are allowed to stay in Australia under several types of visa allocated within both the Humanitarian and Migration Programs. Most mainstream government services, including income support, are only available to migrants with permanent residency status. Refugee and humanitarian entrants may be entitled to additional resettlement supports and services in recognition of the barriers to settlement that confront them on arrival. The specific eligibility criteria for individual services and programs are complex, but some general points can be made here about variable entitlement according to visa classification and residency status.

Table 8 indicates the different entitlements of offshore and onshore Humanitarian Program entrants and entrants under the Family Stream of the Migration Program (some of whom are young people with refugee experiences). It also details the entitlements of onshore applicants for refugee status whose claims are still being processed and who are living in the Australian community during this process. Asylum seekers who arrived in the country without valid documentation are subject to mandatory detention and consequently do not have direct access to the system of supports and services available to people living in the community8

Aside from asylum seekers held in detention, it is clear from Table 8 that temporary protection visa (TPV) holders (recognised refugees who arrived without valid documentation) have the most limited entitlements. These restrictions are linked to the means by which TPV holders entered Australia; they do not arise from assessment of the relative need of this group. The policy of restricting entitlements for people who arrived without valid documentation is intended to deter unauthorised arrivals, and hence people smuggling syndicates that arrange for their passage to Australia, by making Australia a less attractive destination. TPV holders are given an initial three-year period of residency in Australia, with possible extensions,9 but during this time, they are not eligible to sponsor close family members to join them in Australia and nor are they able to enter and exit the country freely (see DIMIA Fact Sheet 64, Nov. 2001). The entitlements of this group of refugees stand in marked contrast to those of refugee entrants under the offshore program who have immediate eligibility for income support and access to the full range of settlement services offered as part of the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy.

Onshore asylum seekers who originally arrived in Australia under valid visas also have restricted access to services, reflecting the unresolved nature of their applications for refugee status.10

People of refugee background who have been sponsored to Australia have limited access to government assistance relative to Refugee category entrants since sponsors are expected to assume some of the financial support responsibilities otherwise assumed by the government. This applies to refugee young people who arrived under the Family Stream of the Migration Program. To a lesser extent, this also applies in the case of entrants under the Special Humanitarian Program who have also been sponsored to Australia, although under different conditions (see Chapter 2).

Table 8: Eligibility for services






Accommodation under Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS)

Community Support for Refugees (CSR) Program



Adult Migrant English Program

Adult Community & Further Education

Secondary school

Department of Health and Aged Care

Migrant Resource Centre (MRC) /Migrant Service Agencies (MSAs)

Community Settlement Services Scheme (CSSS)

Convention refugees

(off shore applicants)

4-8 weeks, assistance to locate longer term accommodation, basic package of household items

Usually 6 months, may be ongoing relationship

Immediate eligibility to apply for all relevant benefits.


510 hours

voluntary access

Up to 4 terms of intensive English tuition

Immediate access to Medicare

Torture and trauma services as required. Eligibility for Early Health Assessment and Intervention and Torture and Trauma services as needed.

Case coordination.

MRC/MSA services.

CSSS services.

Special Humanitarian Program (offshore entrants)

May be referred to IHSS accommodation services if proposer is unable to assist

May be referred to CSR services if proposer is unable to assist

Immediate eligibility to apply for all relevant benefits.


510 hours

voluntary access

Up to 4 terms of intensive English tuition

Immediate access to Medicare

Torture and trauma services as required. Eligibility for Early Health Assessment and Intervention and Torture and Trauma services as needed.

Primarily by proposer, but may be referred for IHSS services if proposer is unable to assist or the relationship with the proposer breaks down.

MRC/MSA services.

CSSS services.

Family reunion entrants

(including those with refugee experiences)



2 year waiting period


510 hours

voluntary access

Up to 4 terms of intensive English tuition

Immediate access to Medicare

Torture and trauma services as required.

Family/sponsor expected to provide support

MRC/MSA services.

CSSS services for those with low English proficiency.

Asylum seekers (onshore applicants)

arriving lawfully



not eligible for Centrelink until granted permanent protection

eligible for income support under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme after initial 6 month period.

no, until granted permanent protection

voluntary access

Up to 4 terms of intensive English tuition

Access to Medicare

Torture and trauma services as required

Access to support depends on resources of the asylum seeker(s).

MRC/MSA services once they receive permanent protection.

CSSS services once they receive permanent protection.

Temporary Protection Visa holders (unauthorised arrivals)



eligible for some benefits, but not Newstart or Youth Allowance





Immediate access to Medicare. Eligibility for Early Health Assessment and Intervention and Torture and Trauma services as needed.

Access to support depends on resources of the TPV holder.

Monitoring systems

A monitoring system common to both On Arrival Accommodation (OAA) services and the Community Refugee Settlement Scheme (CRSS) is needed. Currently, people who enter Australia through OAA are easier to track than those placed with CRSS groups or being supported by their families. Monitoring could take account of the longer-term progress of new arrivals and the quality of support offered to them. Such a system could have considerable benefits to future evaluation processes, and would enable earlier intervention in the lives of young people who need additional support to settle effectively.

Existing policy is either blind to issues of age or to issues
associated with the refugee experience

Eligibility for income support

Migrants generally have to wait two years after arriving in Australia before they become eligible for most social security payments including Youth Allowance, unemployment and sickness benefits.11 This is known as the Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period. It is expected that entrants under the Migration Program either have sufficient means to support themselves or else can rely on the support provided by their Australian sponsor (under an Assurance of Support). These expectations do not apply in the case of entrants under the Humanitarian Program. Refugees and humanitarian entrants, including Special Humanitarian Program entrants who are assisted to Australia by a ‘proposer’, are exempt from the waiting period and gain immediate access to income support payments where required. The partners and dependent children of humanitarian entrants are also exempt from the waiting period (as long as the relationship existed before arrival in Australia). The exemption from the waiting period recognises the particular difficulties that refugee families are likely to encounter in the early period of their settlement. It also recognises that, as sponsors, refugee settlers may not be in a position to give a great deal of material support.

As explained in Chapter 2, however, some people with refugee experiences enter Australia under the Family Stream of the Migration Program to join close relatives who arrived as refugee or humanitarian settlers. Like other family stream migrants, these young people are subject to the two-year waiting period in the expectation that their sponsors will support them financially. In the event of a sponsorship relationship breaking down, a young person can apply for Special Benefit. This payment is only available ‘in cases of hardship brought about by a change of circumstances deemed to be beyond the person’s control’ and eligibility for the benefit is stringently means-tested and reviewed every 13 weeks (see Centrelink web site).

In general, mainstream income support is only available to people with permanent resident status. This means that people recognised under the UN Convention as refugees but who are temporary protection visas holders will not be able to gain access to income support payments (unless they become eligible for a permanent protection visa). An exception may again be made regarding access to Special Benefit. TPV holders generally have to rely on voluntary organisations, church or community groups for financial assistance if they are unable to find work.12

Income support for people living in the community whose applications for recognition as refugees are still being processed is available through the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme.13 The Scheme provides financial assistance to applicants who are unable to meet ‘their most basic needs for food, accommodation and health care’ while their claims are being processed. The Scheme is administered by DIMIA through contractual arrangements with the Australian Red Cross.

Eligibility for housing support

Only entrants under the Refugee component of the offshore Humanitarian Program are automatically entitled to on-arrival accommodation under the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy and related Community Support for Refugees services. Special Humanitarian Program entrants may also be eligible if their proposers are unable to assist. Accommodation assistance is not extended to the close family members of humanitarian visa holders sponsored to Australia under the Family Stream of the Migration Program. Similarly, asylum seekers and TPV holders are not eligible for any government assistance in finding accommodation, although, as noted, Rent Assistance is available to private renters.

Eligibility for job search services

Offshore refugee and humanitarian entrants are eligible for the full range of employment assistance coordinated by Centrelink. Migrants under the two-year waiting period have access to free Job Matching services through the Job Network.14 However, they do not have access to higher levels of support under Job Search Training or Intensive Assistance until this waiting period is over. The Job Placement and Employment Training (JPET) program described earlier in the chapter is unusual in that it explicitly makes provision for intensive employment assistance to young people from refugee backgrounds, whether they arrived under the Humanitarian Program or the Migration Program.

Temporary protection visa holders are able (and expected) to work but they have limited access to Centrelink employment support services.

All job seekers can use the Job Network Access selfhelp facilities in Centrelink offices, which include telephones, photocopiers, fax machines, computers and daily newspapers. These services are free of charge.

Eligibility for health services

All entrants to Australia, including asylum seekers and temporary protection visa holders, have immediate access to Medicare, Australia’s universal health scheme administered by the Department of Health and Aging. Similarly, all migrants are eligible for referral to the Early Health Assessment and Intervention Program and for torture and trauma counselling where required.

Eligibility for English language tuition and education

All permanent protection visa holders (whether under Humanitarian or Migration visa classifications) are eligible for English language tuition under the Adult Migrant English Program or in secondary schools, depending on their age. Asylum seekers and temporary protection visa holders do not share this entitlement. TPV holders are further prevented from accessing English language tuition from Adult, Community and Further Education (ACFE) funded courses. These restrictions apply to educational opportunities more broadly. The circumstances for those at the younger end of the 12- to 25-year age group are slightly different. It is compulsory under Australian law for all children under the age of 16 years of age to attend school. Unaccompanied humanitarian minors on TPVs living in the community receive the same treatment as Australian citizens with respect to primary education. With respect to secondary and other forms of education, they receive the same treatment as other non-citizen children and temporary residents.

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