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Criminals in immigration detention backlog

AAP logoAAP 9/01/2017

The case of a New Zealand man who has been languishing in immigration detention for 14 months while his mentally ill wife struggles to care for their young children is one of hundreds of cases highlighted by the Commonwealth Ombudsman in a report critical of the federal government's handling of foreign convicted criminals.

Between January 2014 and March 2016, 1219 non-citizens who have served more than 12 months jail in Australia had their visas automatically cancelled following a federal government crackdown and were sent to detention centres or deported after being released from prison.

Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave has investigated the visa cancellation process for foreign convicted criminals, and found more than half of those affected are Kiwis.

About 800 people have sought to have the visa cancellations overturned and 627 are still waiting for a decision.

In a report released on Monday, Mr Neave made nine recommendations and urged the immigration department to lift its game and address the backlog of cases and long delays.

The report noted people were finding out about their visa cancellations at the last minute ahead of their release from jail.

Bureaucratic bottlenecks, such as a slow response time from courts and police in providing criminal records and transcripts, was exacerbating delays, it found.

So too was the large number of cases the immigration minister was personally deciding.

The department needed to increase staff awareness about prisoners' literacy problems and review the format information is provided to them, it said.

The report also recommended the department take into account people's family situations and prioritise cases where someone had caring responsibilities for children.

Some detainees had been moved to interstate detention centres and this had impacted on their access to family visits and their ability to cope, the report said.

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