Visa chaos after the department’s budget cut of $ 875 million

A quarter of tourist applications take almost a month to complete, although the average visitor visa is processed in six days.

Josh Murray, director of engineering and construction firm Laing O’Rourke, said recruitment was hampered by visa processing times of 15 months and more.

“Inconsistent guidance, combined with a lack of feedback and pace, makes it extremely difficult for us to recruit globally or help our existing people plan for themselves and their families,” he said.

“Before COVID, temporary visas were processed in about a week. Now the priority treatment has jumped out to eight weeks.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles this week raised concerns about the state of visa processing in Australia as an increasing number of applications are severely delayed or left unresolved.

But the March budget, given by the former Morrison government, included a one-third reduction in funding allocated to migration-related spending on home affairs.

Expenditure is budgeted to fall to $ 2 billion in the next fiscal year and to $ 1.7 billion in 2023-24, down from $ 2.6 billion in the current fiscal year. Treasurer Jim Chalmers will hand over the Albanian government’s first budget in late October.

Former senior immigration ministry official Abul Rizvi said the looming budget cuts are taking up resources in home affairs.

“Their focus is not on faster visa processing,” Mr Rizvi said AFR weekend. “Their focus is on how the hell do we handle such a big budget gap?”

Short-term solution

He said it appeared Home Affairs had generated funding to address current resource issues, but the agency was set to pay the price over the next few years.

“Because [the budget cut] lasts for two years and thereafter [funding] rises again, it seems to me that what has happened is that the Ministry of the Interior has borrowed money from the future to spend on … different things, but next year and the year after, they have to pay the money back, “Mr Rizvi said.

There are now only 96,000 skilled temporary visa holders in Australia, a drop of a third since the start of the pandemic.

Laing O’Rourke’s Mr Murray said the cost of applying for a visa had risen sharply, putting the attractiveness of international skills out of the reach of many companies.

“At the same time, candidates struggle to accept positions with uncertain time frames due to the logistics involved – leaving their current projects, selling homes or breaking leases, planning school changes – or unwilling to deal with the mental strain of COVID-19 life in visa limbo.”

New Zealand is among the countries speeding up visa processing for skilled workers in priority occupations, increasing pressure on Australia.

Sector-specific agreements have been created with a new “green list” of 85 difficult-to-fill high-quality roles created to help recruit construction workers, engineers, craftsmen, health and technology specialists.

Culture of refusing visas

Sir. Rizvi said the blowout in the number of people on bridge visas showed the system was malfunctioning.

About 367,000 people live in Australia on bridge visas, up from 180,000 in June 2019.

A Home Office spokesman said the increase in transitional visas since March 2020 was “due to the number of people unable to leave Australia due to COVID-19 global travel restrictions who have applied for new essential visas to stay in Australia”.

Sir. Rizvi said the resources required to deal with the bridging visa gap prevented domestic affairs from handling the collection in offshore visa applications. Problems with the department culture contributed to the blowout during waiting times.

“Many of their people have been trained in a way that does not focus on customer service or effective treatment. “They are trained to look for reasons to refuse, and that is a culture that has evolved over the last few years,” Mr Rizvi said.

“[Migration agents] is so frustrated with the number of visas being rejected for incredibly petty reasons, and it deters many employers. “

Dissatisfied department

Domestic morale is lower than any other public service company with more than 1,000 employees. Fewer than every other employee said they would recommend Home Affairs as a great place to work.

“Many unhappy people with large backlogs and budget cuts are just creating more unhappy people,” Mr Rizvi said.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Director Andrew McKellar said companies were reporting significant barriers to getting the skilled workforce they need to operate at full capacity.

“Longer processing times, excessive costs, confusing compliance measures and mandatory labor market tests make it prohibitively difficult for many employers to hire skilled staff,” Mr McKellar said.

Sir. Rizvi said Australia’s temporary visa for lack of qualifications was internationally uncompetitive.

“When business people complain, it’s what they want in the back of their minds that 482 visas are bureaucratic, slow and expensive.”

The visa delay comes at the same time as major delays in the processing of passport applications. An increase in post-pandemic demand has created delays, with a record 16,417 posted on Tuesday, up from the pre-pandemic daily average of between 7,000 and 9,000.

Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion have been caught in the visa backlog. Despite being promised priority treatment, hundreds are waiting to go from transition visas to special humanitarian status, providing access to essential services, Medicare and other support.

The immigration minister, Mr Giles, said the coalition had devalued immigration, leading to “crushing in our visa processing, which is holding us back”.

“Unlike the Liberals, Labor has listened to stakeholders and we are determined to address the backlog as a real priority.”

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