Detention in Australia

Immigration detention is an important part of strong border control and supports Australia’s migration system. It assists in managing potential risks to the Australian community—including national security, health and character risks—and ensures people are available for removal.

While Australia welcomes migrants and visitors, individuals must arrive lawfully and abide by the conditions of their visa. Australian law requires foreign nationals coming to Australia to obtain a visa, which is a permit to travel to, enter and/or stay in the country. This universal visa system means that every non-citizen in Australia must have a visa, either as a result of an application, or one granted automatically by law.

A person who does not hold a valid visa must be detained under the Migration Act 1958, however whether the person is placed in an immigration detention facility is determined using a risk-based approach. In Australia, immigration detention is administrative not punitive and assists the Department to manage its temporary entry and permanent migration programmes.

The surge in illegal maritime arrivals saw the detention population peak at 10,000 in July 2013. The reduction in boat arrivals over the past three years has seen the number of people in detention fall to around 1500 and has allowed the Government to close 17 immigration detention facilities by the end of 2018. Illegal maritime arrivals now make up less than a third of the held detention population. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of people in immigration detention whose visa has been cancelled based on character grounds. This has provided the Department with the need and the opportunity to design a new model for Australia’s immigration detention network that is fit for purpose, cost-effective and sustainable into the future.

Under the new detention model high risk unlawful non-citizens remain subject to detention in immigration detention facilities as necessary. The safety of the Australian community is important. The decision to place an individual who does not hold a valid visa into an immigration detention facility includes consideration of whether or not they present a risk to the Australian community.

An individual whose visa has ceased or been cancelled, and who has exhausted all options to stay in Australia, is expected to leave voluntarily. In the majority of cases, people will leave without being placed in immigration detention. If a person has exhausted all options to stay in Australia and does not leave, the Department will facilitate their removal.

The vast majority of people coming to Australia comply with Australia’s migration laws. Of the 6.5 million temporary arrivals that came to Australia in 2015-16, less than one per cent did not comply with the requirement to maintain their lawful immigration status or to depart Australia before their visa ceased. Of those, less than three per cent found themselves in one of our immigration detention facilities, before their immigration status was resolved.

Oversight of immigration detention is provided through the Department’s internal assurance and by facilitating regular access to detention facilities by independent external organisations.

Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre