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How refugees succeed in visa reviews

How do refugees succeed in visa reviews? What are the best chances of success? It has now been shown to be true that asylum seekers with legal representation are seven times more likely to succeed before the government tribunal tasked with reviewing refugee cases than those who represent themselves. Thanks to the excellent news source – The Conversation – for this fact, obtained this information from Freedom of Information requests to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

In addition, it has found that where refugees come from and which individual member is reviewing their case on the AAT  may also significantly influence their odds of success.

Note – the data, obtained from a freedom of information request, cover 18,196 cases decided by the AAT between January 2015 and December 2019 with the research only looking at asylum seekers who arrived by plane and had access to a review by the AAT.

How does the visa approval and review process work?

For refugees and asylum seekers applying for protection visas in Australia, the process is lengthy and arduous.

The initial assessment of a protection visa application is carried out by the Department of Home Affairs. If this is denied, the options for review then depend on how they arrived in Australia.

Those who arrived by plane can seek review at the AAT, where they are given a fresh hearing assessing the merits of their claim for protection. Those who arrived by boat without authorisation can only access a much more limited form of review before the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA).

If the asylum seeker’s claims fail at the IAA or AAT, they can then seek judicial review at the Federal Circuit Court, but only on the very narrow grounds of there having been some serious legal error.

Overall, The Conversation journalists found that asylum seekers received favourable outcomes before the AAT in just 13% of cases. This includes instances where a visa has been granted or the matter was sent back to the department for reconsideration.

In the remaining 87% of cases, the original decision to refuse a visa was affirmed by the AAT or the application was withdrawn.

Why legal representation matters

The analysis of the data undertaken by The Conversation reveals much more about the factors that tend to lead to a successful or unsuccessful review.

One of the most striking findings relates to the potential influence of professional migration advice from a lawyer or migration agent.

It was found that only 4% of unrepresented applicants were successful at the AAT. This figure rose to 28% when an asylum seeker had legal representation.