REFUGEES who arrive in Australia by boat will be unable to work for as long as five years and many will be required to survive on about $270 a week under new rules announced on Wednesday.
The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said it was impossible to accommodate the sheer number of asylum seekers arriving in offshore detention on Nauru and Manus Island, as signalled when the government re-introduced the so-called Pacific solution three months ago.
Instead, most of the 7500 asylum seekers who have arrived since then will have their claims processed while living in the community, and would be given bridging visas - even after being found to be a refugee.
The rules will apply to all people who arrived in Australia's territories by boat after August 13, who will be subject to the same ''no advantage'' rules faced by those sent to Nauru and Manus Island.
The new regime means they will not be resettled with full rights as a resident any quicker than someone in a refugee camp in Asia. Mr Bowen said there would be a ''very substantial time'' to wait.
''I'm not going to provide a how-to guide for people smugglers in terms of full details. But what I have said is that the five-year figure is an accurate one.''
People on bridging visas will not have the right to work, Mr Bowen said, and would be eligible for limited benefits.
They will be expected to pay for accommodation after receiving six weeks' accommodation from the Red Cross.
''It's not a generous allocation, but it's an appropriate allocation that means that they can, obviously, provide for the basic needs that they have.''
He rejected criticism from refugee advocates that the government's policies were ''cruel''.
''The overriding moral and humanitarian obligation on the Australian government is to stop people drowning at sea and yes, that means difficult decisions,'' he said.