More than 9,500 temporary refugees could be allowed to remain in Australia, in a softening of the country's hardline immigration policy, announced yesterday.

Since 1999 thousands of people have been released from detention centres on temporary protection visas (TPVs), which must be renewed every three years and can be revoked if the situation in their home country is considered to have become safe.

Amanda Vanstone, the immigration minister, said yesterday TPV-holders would be able to apply for ordinary visas, a route previously barred to them. "These arrangements will ensure that ... those who are making a significant contribution to the Australian community are able to remain here," she said.

The changes came in response to support for the temporary refugees from many rural towns, where TPV holders are working in hard-pressed local industries. Up to a dozen MPs from the ruling coalition have lobbied for a change because of dissatisfaction among rural electorates with the "inhumanity" of the TPV policy.

The policy was blamed for leaving refugees in a permanent state of limbo. Last year a TPV holder, Habibullah Wahedy, committed suicide after being told his visa was about to expire.

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