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Australian Immigration Appeal Tribunals Under Pressure

10.03.2011 07:38 Age: 7 yrs

Australia’s Migration Review Tribunal (MRT) and Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) are being inundated with appeal hearings.  The number of appeals regarding matters of Australian immigration and visa application decisions being heard by these tribunals has increased significantly over the last six months, and the tribunal’s resources are struggling to keep up with this intensifying workload.

Denis O’Brien, the Principal of the MRT since 2007, has informed a Senate estimates hearing that for the 2010/2011 financial year to the 31st January, more than 5900 applications have been lodged with the MRT and 1646 with the RRT.

These are unprecedented numbers, and indicate that to date, applications to the MRT have increased from the previous year by a significant 26 per cent, and applications to the RRT by 32 per cent.

The MRT and RRT were established by the Australian Government to provide an independent and final merits review of decisions made in relation to visa applications to travel to, work or live in Australia. The function and powers of these review tribunals are set out defined and governed by the Migration Act 1958 and the Migration Regulation 1994.

Where a visa application is refused by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), in most cases the pplicant is entitled to lodge an appeal with the MRT. The MRT has the power to change a decision made by DIAC. The RRT hears applications regarding refugee status, and has the power to grant successful applicants a protection visa if it finds they satisfy the definition of a refugee.

Mr O’Brien told the Senate hearing that these latest figures demonstrate “… our workload is increasing.”

O’Brien detailed that decisions in the RRT were up by 31 percent so far this financial year, with 75 per cent of these decisions being made within the recommended 90 day timeframe. The average decision time for the RRT was a 95 day turnaround.

However, decisions in the MRT have dropped by 28 per cent over the same period. This decrease in the MRT’s decision output is concerning, given the significant increase in lodgments of appeals for the same timeframe.

Mr O’Brien said “(this) decrease in decision output … is principally due to the substantial increase in our RRT work, to which we must give priority.”

He also noted that loss of staff have contributed to this build up in Australia’s Immigration review system, stating “… our resource difficulties have been exacerbated by the recent loss of a number of experienced RRT members." He explained that eight tribunal members have taken temporary leave from tribunal duties to fill positions within the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

At the 31st January, there were 829 active cases pending before the RRT and a whopping 9731 active cases before the MRT.

The recent changes to Australia’s Student Visa program is one of the reasons behind the increased workload the MRT is experiencing, O’Brien said.  The changes have led to a massive increase in student visa review applications being lodged with the MRT, and each case has to be heard individually on its own merits.

Although O’Brien hopes to have new staff in place by the middle of the year, he warned the Senate hearing that "We just can't afford to let this backlog continually increase without trying to address it."

It remains to be seen what, if any, strategies the Australian government will put into place to address this backlog, and whether they intend to provide extra support and resources for Australia’s struggling immigration review system. 

Australian Migration Lawyer


Established in 2002, Haag Walker Lawyers has successfully assisted thousands of Australian businesses and individuals to navigate migration law requirements.
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