Australia has introduced controversial temporary visas for refugees and asylum seekers in a move aimed at tightening immigration laws.

The Migration Act amendments, which could prevent refugees from staying in the country for more than three years, passed the lower house on Friday after a long and intense debate in the upper house Senate over the legislation.

The new legislation says that refugees would be protected with settlement rights for up to three years and could be returned to their home country at the end of that period. 

The government reintroduced the "temporary protection visas" [TPVs], used by previous right-wing administrations, to deal with a backlog of 30,000 asylum seekers who had arrived by boat.

However, Australia has also pledged to increase the overall refugee intake by 7,500 and free about 1,500 undocumented people, including hundreds of children, held in detention.

"This is a win for Australia," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

'Violates international law'

Australia has come under international pressure over the offshore detention of asylum-seekers on its Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island, where some children are held, and in Pacific island camps as well as for the turning back of asylum boats.

"We always said that three things were necessary to stop the boats - offshore processing, turning boats around and temporary protection visas and last night the final piece of policy was put in place," Abbott said.

But US-based human rights group Amnesty International said that the tightened immigration legislation left no avenue for appeal and would see refugees returned to oppressive situations.

"It violates international law by removing any requirement to consider whether a person will be tortured or persecuted if returned home," said Graham Thom, Amnesty's refugee coordinator.

"It seems inevitable that these drastic changes to Australia's refugee processing system will see people in genuine need of protection returned to the hands of their persecutors."

Source: Agencies