THE Gillard government appears set to reveal within days how its ''no advantage test'' will be applied to almost 7000 asylum seekers who have arrived since it announced the re-opening of processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
The surge in arrivals could see those who are not sent to Nauru and Manus Island released into the community on bridging visas, but with more limited entitlements, including work rights.
Although the policy is designed to deter arrivals, it has so far had the opposite impact, with government ministers convinced that people smugglers are attempting to overwhelm the new system before it is fully operational.
With the centres of Nauru and the still-to-be-reopened Manus having a total capacity of less than 2000, the government faces enormous challenges in applying the ''no advantage'' principle to those who cannot be sent offshore.
The principle was designed to put boat arrivals in the same position as those in transit countries, with an equivalent wait before resettlement, while a plan was developed for processing and resettling refugees.
There are 5209 boat arrivals now in the community on bridging visas, with 5073 in detention centres on the mainland and another 2423 on Christmas Island. Sri Lankans account for 5718 of the 14,665 boat arrivals this year - and an even bigger proportion of the post-August 13 arrivals. More than 150 have returned voluntarily or involuntarily since August 13.
While the treatment of those involved in the country's civil war remains a ''push'' factor for Sri Lankan Tamils, insiders say it is also clear that Sri Lankans without persecution fears were misled into thinking they would be able to work or receive generous repatriation packages.
Refugee advocates say they were briefed on one aspect of the response yesterday - that all those who arrived prior to the new policy coming into force on August 13 would be released on bridging visas by the end of next month, except for those with adverse or outstanding security assessments.
Pamela Curr, of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, warned that any decision to limit work rights to the post-August 13 arrivals would place an ''extraordinary burden'' on a voluntary sector that is struggling to cope with the numbers already in detention and in the community on bridging visas.