Australia’s response to the Ukraine refugee crisis

Friday 22 April 2022

Anne O’Donoghue
Immigration Solutions Lawyers, Sydney

Diane Markantonakis
Immigration Solutions Lawyers, Sydney

Australia is home to around 14,000 Ukrainians. Following Ukraine’s independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, Australia welcomed Ukrainians as skilled and family migrants.[1] The Ukrainian embassy in Canberra estimates that Australia’s Ukrainian community, both Ukrainian-born and Australian nationals with Ukrainian heritage, is 38,000 strong.[2]

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Australia promptly and generously implemented a call to action, in preparation and anticipation of the influx of Ukrainian nationals who have sought and will seek protection in Australia.

Immigration policy amendments

In a statement made on 11 March 2022, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alex Hawke stated:

‘The Australian Government has granted over 5,500 visas to Ukrainians since 23 February 2022 and around 750 Ukrainians in this cohort have now arrived. Additionally, all Ukrainian nationals in Australia with a visa that is due to expire by 30 June 2022 will be given an automatic extension for six months, and the Government continues to progress applications from Ukrainians across all visa categories as a priority’.

Additionally, Australia is making available a three-year humanitarian visa to Ukrainian temporary visa holders in Australia and those who arrive in the coming months. This will provide work rights and access to Medicare, with school-aged children able to continue their education.

In addition to Ukrainian visas being processed with absolute priority, the Australian government will work closely with the Ukrainian Australian community to ensure appropriate permanent visa options are made available to this cohort at an appropriate time. These arrangements mirror closely those that were put in place for evacuees from Afghanistan to which Australia is now offering an additional 16,500 humanitarian places over the next four years to people fleeing Afghanistan.[3]

Australia is also funding trusted humanitarian partners to ensure life-saving assistance reaches vulnerable Ukrainians quickly. This funding will help provide shelter, emergency relief and psychosocial support to those in need. Hawke has met with Adrian Edwards, Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to receive a briefing on UNHCR activities in Europe and to reaffirm Australia’s commitment to support international efforts to assist those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

In accommodating the fast-changing and inaccessible nature of immigration protocols and policy, which is the new reality for Ukrainians fleeing Ukraine, Australia has assured that immigration procedures and requirements will be waived in situations where Ukrainian nationals seek assistance and leniency in providing documentation. For example:

  1. close family members can apply on behalf of their family members in Ukraine;
  2. Ukrainian nationals who do not hold a valid passport should seek advice from the Ukraine State Migration Service or their nearest Ukraine Embassy or Consulate in a neighbouring country. If that is not possible in a particular location, a visa application can be submitted without a valid passport; and
  3. some children may be travelling across international borders with only one parent. Australia is committed to ensuring the welfare of children and travel to Australia requires a minor must have permission from both parents. If this consent cannot be provided, an application can be made with available documentation.[4]

Humanitarian aid amendments

Defence aid

Following discussions between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia's Minister for Defence Peter Dutton and their Ukrainian counterparts, it is clear that Ukraine’s need for military assistance remains urgent and ongoing. In response, Australia’s Department of Defence has developed an additional AUS $21m support package of defensive military assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces, which will bring Australia’s total military assistance so far to AUS $91m.[5]

To meet Ukrainian priority requests, this package will comprise additional material from Australian Defence Force stocks. The Australian government will continue to identify opportunities to provide further military assistance where it is able to expeditiously provide required capability to the Ukraine Armed Forces.

Humanitarian aid

Australia has generously allocated a significant budget to fulfil the humanitarian aid it will be instating to assist the socio-economic needs of Ukrainians who are and will be seeking protection in Australia. These include:

  1. AUS $30m in emergency humanitarian assistance. This contribution will focus on protecting women, children, the elderly and the disabled, and takes the total so far committed to AUS $65m;
  2. AUS $10m through non-government organisations (NGOs) under the Australian Humanitarian Partnership, to help address education and critical protection needs for children, people living with a disability and those facing risks of gender-based violence;
  3. AUS $8m to the United Nations Population Fund to protect displaced women and girls from gender-based violence and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services;
  4. AUS $10m to the World Food Programme, to help address increasingly severe food shortages; and
  5. AUS $2m to the Emergency Action Alliance Ukraine Appeal – funding which will attract matched private donations to enhance the response of Australian NGOs and their partners in the region.[6]

The Australian government has adequately prepared for Ukrainians seeking protection in Australia – not only equipping them with the resources they need, but also equipping the country by accurately planning for the expected influx of refugees, along with the costs, policy arrangements and immigration intake increases that are needed to support the current dire situation.


[1] Ukraine-born Community Information Summary (Department of Home Affairs), see www.homeaffairs.gov.au/mca/files/2016-cis-ukraine.PDF, accessed 20 April 2022.

[2] 2016 Census (Australian Bureau of Statistics), see https://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/censushome.nsf/home/2016, accessed 20 April 2022.

[3] ‘Enhanced support for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine’ (Australian government, 20 March 2022), see https://minister.homeaffairs.gov.au/AlexHawke/Pages/enhanced-support-for-ukrainians-fleeing-russias-war-on-ukraine.aspx.

[4] ‘Ukraine visa support’ (Department of Home Affairs), see www.homeaffairs.gov.au/help-and-support/ukraine-visa-support, accessed 20 April 2022.

[5] ‘Additional support to Ukraine’ (Australian government, 20 March 2022), see www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/additional-support-ukraine.