Laws Governing Immigrants in Australia

Laws Governing Immigrants in Australia: All You Need to Know

This article on ‘Laws Governing Immigrants in Australia: All You Need to Know’ was written by Shashanki Kaushik, an intern at Legal Upanishad.


Australia’s immigration system is built upon a complex web of laws and regulations designed to manage the entry and stay of immigrants in the country. This article explores the legal framework governing immigrants in Australia, encompassing key sections, acts, legislation, and landmark judgments. It provides an in-depth analysis of immigration laws in Australia, detailing their historical evolution, policy objectives, and implications for immigrants. The article also examines the various visa categories, criteria, and pathways available to individuals seeking to migrate to Australia. Additionally, it highlights significant court decisions that have shaped immigration law in the country.

Historical Evolution of laws governing Immigrants in Australia

Australia’s immigration policies have evolved significantly over the years, reflecting changing societal and economic needs. The White Australia Policy, which persisted from the early 20th century until the mid-20th century, was characterized by discriminatory practices that favoured European immigrants and excluded non-European immigrants.

However, in the post-World War II era, Australia embraced a more inclusive immigration policy, marked by the establishment of the Department of Immigration in 1945. The Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946 and the Immigration Act 1958 were key legislative milestones during this period.

Key Legislation Governing Immigration

Migration Act 1958

The cornerstone of Australia’s immigration laws, the Migration Act 1958, outlines the legal framework for entry, stay, and removal of non-citizens. It provides the authority for visa categories, conditions, and criteria.

Migration Regulations 1994

Working in conjunction with the Migration Act, the Migration Regulations 1994 specify detailed provisions related to visas, application processes, and compliance.

Australian Citizenship Act 2007

This act defines the criteria and processes for acquiring Australian citizenship, including by descent, birth, or application.

Visa Categories and Pathways

Australia offers a wide array of visa categories catering to various purposes of travel and immigration. These include:

Permanent Visas

  • Skilled Migration Visas
  • Family Reunion Visas
  • Employer-Sponsored Visas
  • Business Innovation and Investment Visas

Temporary Visas

  • Student Visa
  • Tourist Visas
  • Temporary Work Visas
  • Partner Visas

Humanitarian and Protection Visas

  • Refugee and Humanitarian Programme
  • Protection Visas

Each visa category has specific eligibility criteria, conditions, and pathways, catering to the diverse needs of immigrants.

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Landmark Judgments

M61 and M69 Cases (2001)

These cases before the High Court of Australia established the principle that the Minister for Immigration must exercise discretion when considering visa applications, taking into account individual circumstances and international obligations.

Plaintiff M68/2015 v. Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (2016)

This case clarified the limitations on offshore processing of asylum seekers and the government’s obligations under international law.

Minister for Immigration and Citizenship v. SZMDS (2010)

In this case, the High Court upheld the principle that an applicant for a protection visa must be given a fair opportunity to present their claims.

Immigration Policies and Objectives

Australia’s immigration policies are driven by a range of objectives, including:

  • Economic Contribution: Attracting skilled migrants to address labour shortages. Encouraging investment through business visas.
  • Family Reunion: Facilitating the reunion of families by allowing eligible relatives to join their Australian citizen or permanent resident family members.
  • Humanitarian Commitments: Providing protection to refugees and those in need through the Refugee and Humanitarian Programme.
  • National Security: Ensuring the security of Australia’s borders by screening and assessing visa applicants.

Compliance and Enforcement

Australia maintains a strict stance on immigration compliance. The Department of Home Affairs oversees various enforcement measures, including:

  • Border Security: Screening and checks at entry points. Border Force operations to detect and prevent illegal entry.
  • Visa Compliance: Monitoring visa holders to ensure compliance with visa conditions. Compliance and enforcement operations to address visa fraud and non-compliance.
  • Detention and Removal: Detention of individuals who do not hold a valid visa. Removal of non-citizens who pose a threat to national security or fail to meet visa requirements.

Recent Developments

Australia’s immigration landscape continues to evolve. Recent developments include:

  • COVID-19 Pandemic: Temporary visa changes and travel restrictions in response to the pandemic. Managed isolation and quarantine measures for international arrivals.
  • Citizenship Reforms: Proposals to revise citizenship requirements and eligibility criteria.
  • Refugee Policies: Ongoing debates surround offshore processing and mandatory detention.


Australia’s immigration laws have a rich history and a profound impact on individuals seeking to migrate to the country. The legal framework, comprising the Migration Act 1958 and associated regulations, lays the foundation for visa categories, eligibility criteria, and compliance measures.

Landmark judgements have shaped the interpretation of immigration laws, emphasizing the importance of fairness and international obligations. As Australia continues to adapt its immigration policies to changing circumstances, it is essential for immigrants and aspiring residents to stay informed about the latest developments and requirements.

List of References