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Thursday, 30 September 1993
Page: 1523

Senator MURPHY —Can the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs tell the Senate what the government is doing to locate and remove people who are in Australia illegally, and whether there have been any recent changes in the number of people overstaying their visas?

Senator BOLKUS —I thank Senator Murphy for his question. The government takes this issue very seriously because of two major priorities that we have in this portfolio area. Firstly, we ensure that queue jumpers do not have any advantage over those who apply to come to Australia properly. Secondly, we attempt to protect the employment opportunities of Australians.

   In this context I am pleased to be able to report that in the last 12 months there has been a substantial increase in the number of illegal entrants leaving Australia after being located by my department. At the same time there has been a significant decline in the number of people overstaying their visas. With respect to the latter group, at the end of last year some 82,000 people were estimated to be in Australia illegally, having overstayed their visas. However, by the end of June this year, that figure had dropped by nearly three per cent to about 79,800.

  More importantly, when we consider that the number of people entering Australia legally has continued to increase over recent years—in the last financial year it increased by 15 per cent to some 1.9 million—the percentage of illegal overstayers as a proportion of the legal, non-permanent entrants into this country declined by some 20 per cent over the last 12 months. This fall has occurred in all visa categories, the most significant drop being in the student visa category.

  In respect to the former group, the number leaving Australia after being located by my department, the figures are directly linked to the government's increasing success in locating and removing people who are living and working here illegally. Compliance results have been improving now for some three years. In the 12 months to June 1993, immigration staff located some 14,800 illegal entrants, compared with 11,600 in the previous year. This is an increase of 27 per cent over locations in the 1991-92 financial year. Because of that, there was an increase in the number of enforced departures. Some 9,180 were forced to leave in that financial year compared with 7,100 in 1992-93, which is a 30 per cent increase in supervised departures.

  There is evidence of greater compliance success. The government is keen to build on that in the interests of protecting those in Australia who have the right to employment and also to protect the immigration program.