Stronger together: the impact of family separation on refugees and humanitarian migrants in Australia

Refugees Families Economic modelling Community development Australia
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Stronger together (report) 1.05 MB

For many people who find sanctuary in Australia, ongoing forced separation from loved ones affects their ability to build a new life in Australia. The lack of family reunion opportunities in Australia significantly impacts people with refugee backgrounds, affecting their ability to obtain an education, find and hold stable employment, and develop new social networks. This takes a toll on the wellbeing of individuals, families and the wider community.

Currently, the Australian Government offers limited opportunities for family reunion for refugees and humanitarian migrants, and the barriers to successful applications are high. However, family reunion offers humanitarian migrants the best chance to rebuild their lives on a firm footing — with their family by their side. Australia should establish a new Humanitarian Family Reunion visa stream within an increased Refugee and Humanitarian Program to make family reunion for humanitarian migrants more accessible.

As this report shows, Australia stands to reap significant long-term economic benefits from increasing our intake of people seeking safety

New economic modelling undertaken by Deloitte Access Economics for Oxfam found that increasing Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program could have notable positive impacts on the broader economy. An increase in the humanitarian intake from 18,750 in 2019–2020 to 44,000 by 2022–2023 would:

  • increase the size of the Australian economy by $37.7 billion in net present value terms2 over the next 50 years. On average, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could be $4.9 billion greater annually (in $2017–20183 ) between 2018–2019 and 2067–2068;
  • sustain on average an additional 35,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the Australian economy every year for the next 50 years; and
  • increase demand for Australian goods and services by $18.2 billion4 in net present value terms.

The positive economic impacts increase over time, particularly as humanitarian migrants settle into life in Australia, finish education or retraining, and enter the labour force. There is opportunity to meet the labour force needs in key expanding sectors, like health and aged care, which are projected to undergo a large increase in demand for labour. Humanitarian migrants are also known to be entrepreneurial, creating new businesses and jobs in Australia.

At a time of unprecedented global displacement, Oxfam is calling on the Australian Government to lead by example, by proactively helping more humanitarian migrant families to rebuild their lives in Australia. This requires changing the rules to better recognise the true nature of families, whatever their shape or size.


The Australian Government should:

  • create a Humanitarian Family Reunion visa stream within the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, of 10,000 places annually, that is specifically designed to make it easier for refugees and humanitarian migrants to be reunited with their family members; and, at the same time
  • progressively increase Australia’s overall Refugee and Humanitarian Program to 44,000 places by 2022–2023, inclusive of the Humanitarian Family Reunion visa stream, and with 22,000 places allocated to UNHCR-referred refugees. This number should be reviewed annually, in order to be consistent with Australia’s fair share and to allow for capacity to respond to emergency protection needs


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