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Asylum seeker families may be freed on limited visas.

Asylum seeker families could be released into the community on bridging visas to relieve pressure on an overwhelmed budget and on a border protection system struggling against an unprecedented surge in new arrivals.

With nearly 300 individuals entering Australian territory by boat this week and another vessel detected on Wednesday carrying 147 people, authorities fear a further 400 or so people are on the water and due to arrive in coming days.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard advised on Wednesday that a final decision had yet to be taken on the possibility of extending restrictive non-work bridging visas - used at present exclusively for single males - to whole families.

That would see families given minimal financial support and sent into the community to find their own way - presumably aided by the non-government welfare sector.

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