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Fact sheet - Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian program

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Australia's Immigration Program has two components:

  • Migration Program for skilled and family migrants
  • Humanitarian Program for refugees and others in refugee-like situations.

This fact sheet provides details of Australia's Humanitarian Program. Details of the Migration Program are available in Fact she​et - Migration​ Program planning levels​.

Background information

One of the major challenges facing the world today is protecting refugees who have been forced to leave their homes by armed conflict and human rights abuses.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there were  65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2016, the highest number ever recorded. Of these, 40.3 million were internally displaced persons, 22.5 million were refugees and 2.8 million were asylum seekers.
See: The UN Refugee Agency​

As a member of the international community, Australia shares responsibility for protecting these refugees and resolving refugee situations. This commitment is most strongly expressed through the Humanitarian Program.

Humanitarian Program

The Humanitarian Program has two important functions:

  • the onshore protection/asylum component fulfils Australia's international obligations by offering protection to people already in Australia who are found to be refugees according to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
  • the offshore resettlement component expresses Australia's commitment to refugee protection by going beyond these obligations and offering resettlement to people overseas for whom this is the most appropriate option.

Onshore protection

The onshore component of the Humanitarian Program aims to provide options for people who wish to apply for protection (or asylum) after arrival in Australia.

More information on the onshore component of the program is available on the Department's website.
See: Onshore – Protection​

Offshore resettlement

The offshore resettlement component comprises two categories of permanent visas. These are:

  • Refugee-for people who are subject to persecution in their home country, who are typically outside their home country, and are in need of resettlement. The majority of applicants who are considered under this category are identified and referred by UNHCR to Australia for resettlement. The Refugee category includes the Refugee, In-country Special Humanitarian, Emergency Rescue and Woman at Risk visa subclasses.
  • Special Humanitarian Program (SHP)-for people outside their home country who are subject to substantial discrimination amounting to gross violation of human rights in their home country, and immediate family of persons who have been granted protection in Australia. Applications for entry under the SHP must be supported by a proposer who is an Australian citizen, permanent resident or eligible New Zealand citizen, or an organisation that is based in Australia.
    See: Proposing​ an applicant

Note: People who arrived as an Illegal Maritime Arrival on or after 13 August 2012 are not eligible to propose their family under the Humanitarian Program. People in these circumstances can apply under the family stream of the Migration Program.

Compo​sition of the offshore resettlement program

The size and composition of Australia's resettlement program are influenced by a number of factors. These include:

  • UNHCR assessments of the resettlement needs of refugees overseas
  • the views of individuals and organisations in Australia conveyed during community consultations with the Minister
  • Australia's capacity to assist.

Outcomes of 2015–16 program

In 2015–16, the Humanitarian Program was set at 13,750 places. A total of 13,765 visas were granted under the annual Humanitarian Program, of which 11,762 visas were granted under the offshore component and 2003 visas were granted under the onshore component. 

In addition, 3790 humanitarian visas were granted in 2015–16 under the Government's commitment to provide an additional 12,000 visa places for people displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq. This brought the total number of Humanitarian visas granted in 2015–16 to 17,555 (15,552 offshore).

See the tables below for further details on the 2015–16 program outcomes.

Woman at Risk

In 2015–16, 1277 visas were granted to Woman at Risk visa applicants. The Government had committed to granting at least 1200 woman at risk places in 2015–16.


In 2015–16, a total of 77,026 people lodged applications under the offshore program component compared with 62,946 in 2014–15.​

Humanitarian Program figures​

Humanitarian Program grants by category 2011–12 to 2015–16
Special Humanitarian Program7145034,5055,0077,268
Total3 13,744 19,988 13,747 13,748 17,555

1Offshore statistics for 2015-16 include visas granted towards the Annual Humanitarian Program and the Additional 12,000 places for Syrians and Iraqis
2Includes protection visas and onshore humanitarian visa grants that are countable under the Humanitarian Program.
3 Data in this table is revised as at the end of the 2015-16 program year, and may differ from previously published figures.

2015–16 offshore visa grants by top ten countries of birth
CountriesNumber of visas granted
Burma (Myanmar)1951
Congo (DRC)657
Total 15,552

More information on the 2015-16 Humanitarian Program outcomes​ is on the Department's website.​
See: Humanitarian Program statistics

More detailed statistics on the past Humanitarian Programs are available in the Department's annual reports.
See: Departmental Annual Reports​