'New migrants' and specialist homelessness services

In October 2013, Homelessness Australia (HA) surveyed specialist homelessness services (SHSs) across the country about their ‘new migrant’ client load.

This article provides an overview of some information obtained from that survey. It also builds on the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW’s) Specialist Homelessness Collection, that contains some information on migrants, including newly-arrived ones. However, that collection does not include details about clients’ legal status that may help to explain why they need SHS support.

SHSs are supporting more new migrants and turning many away

The HA survey showed that nearly half of all SHSs were dealing with an increase in new migrant client load in 2013 as compared with 2012. While 6.6 per cent of respondents had no such clients and 38 per cent had fewer than five per cent, 28 per cent had a new migrant client load of between five and 20 per cent, and for another 18 per cent the load was between 20 and 50 per cent. There were even services not specifically funded to deal with new migrants whose client load from such backgrounds exceeded 50 per cent. The increase in client numbers appears to have mainly affected services not specifically funded to deal with new migrant or ‘CALD’ clients, although 40 per cent of such specialist services reported increases.

 The increase in numbers of new migrants supported was most evident in Victoria, followed by Queensland.

new migrants figure 1

Figure 2: Change in services’ ‘new migrant’ client load compared with previous yearnew migrants figure 2The survey also revealed that SHSs turned away an increased number of new migrants than in the preceding year. This was increase was most pronounced in NSW and Queensland, which together accounted for almost half of these ‘turnaways’.

Figure 3: Change in numbers of ‘new migrant’ clients turned away

new migrants figure 3

Countries of origin

More than half of respondents either did not notice changes in the ethnic composition of their new migrant caseload, or thought that it had not changed.

new migrants figure 4

However, 77 respondents observed changes in ethnic background.

new migrants figure 5

Of their statements about changed client load,

  • 27 per cent indicated that ‘more Africans’ were being supported,
  • 20 per cent indicated that ‘more “Middle Easterners”’ were being supported,
  • 6 per cent each indicated that8 per cent indicated that more people from NZ or elsewhere in the Pacific were being supported.
    • ‘more Iranians or Afghanis’ or
    • more people from Asia, were being supported, and

SHSs reported supporting large numbers of clients from some countries of origin of humanitarian migrants (notably Sudan, but also Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia). They also reported substantial numbers of clients from China (which may be explained by the sheer scale of migration from China) and other countries that send substantial numbers of spousal migrants, particularly women (the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and, to a lesser extent, India). And they reported large numbers of New Zealanders.

This is largely consistent with the AIHW report for 2012-2013 that listed New Zealand (no 1), Sudan (no 2), Vietnam (no 4), Iran (no 5) and China (no 6) as five of the top six overseas birthplaces of SHS clients (with no 3 being the UK). The only change in the AIHW ranking from the preceding year was that Iran replaced the Philippines at number 5.

Visa pathways into Australia

Most survey respondents, even when specialist CALD providers are included, indicated that they dealt most frequently with former humanitarian migrants, closely followed by those who had become citizens by marriage, New Zealand citizens on ‘special category visas’ and holders of spousal or prospective marriage visas. Thus it appears to be the case that SHSs are:

  • assisting former refugees after  they have exhausted Humanitarian Services Support (HSS) or other migrant support services, or those who arrived as ‘boat people’ and have been denied access to HSS since 30 August 2013;
  • assisting ‘boat people’ on bridging visas living in ‘the community’, including people without work rights (who arrived after 13 August 2012);
  • assisting NZ citizens in a ;manner that compensated for their  lack of access to the social security system;
  • assisting people (particularly women) whose (proposed) marriages to Australian citizens either:
    • do not work out during their initial two years in Australia, when they do not have permanent residency and lack access to the social security system; or
    • are affected by poverty, eg perhaps because they have been sponsored for marriage by holders of humanitarian visas unable to support them. This could be the case where the sponsors themselves were former ‘boat people’ who arrived after 13 August 2012 (who may only sponsor relatives in the ‘family’ stream, with its two-year wait for social security. The fact that that this ‘Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period’ can be waived for family members of humanitarian migrants is perhaps not widely enough known in the homelessness sector.)

As might be expected, services funded to assist new migrants were more likely than other SHSs to deal with asylum-seekers and temporary or even illegal immigrants. Perhaps most striking, however, is the fact that CALD services ranked ‘citizens by marriage’ as a more frequently-encountered client group than did other SHSs.

new migrants figure 6

new migrants figure 7

This may reflect the lack of access to social security of sponsored spouses in families of former ‘boat people’ who arrived after 13 August 2012, or it could reflect higher-than-average levels of domestic violence against migrant partners than other people. Violent sponsoring spouses of these women may not necessarily be other ‘new migrants’. Statistics obtained by HA from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) show high levels of resort to the ‘family violence’ provisions of the Migration Act (which allow grants of permanent residency to sponsored partners without their spouses’ support) by women from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Thailand and the UK. Many sponsoring spouses of women granted these visas are Australian-born.


This research demonstrates once again that homelessness service providers are a vital part Australia’s safety net. When other support mechanisms are absent or curtailed, vulnerable people and those at risk of violence seek safety and security from specialist homelessness services.

More information on survey results will be released after a report to the federal Department of Social Services has been finalised.