Certainty and consistency needed for visa applicants and sponsors in light of more proposed visa changes

Key Points
  • The Department of Home Affairs is seeking to substantially reduce the number of Australian visas from 99 to 10
  • These changes are in addition to the skilled visa (457) changes announced in April 2017
  • Improved efficiencies shouldn’t come at the expense of visa applicants, or the Australian businesses which rely on them
The Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs is again making changes to the Australian visa system, with a view to substantially reducing the number of visa categories. While moves to simplify visas should be welcomed, ongoing certainty is needed for both applicants and the businesses which rely on skilled migrants.

The Australian Department of Home Affairs (the Department) is currently undertaking an industry and public consultation process on proposed broad reforms to both the number of visas offered for people migrating to and visiting Australia, and the ways in which Australia approaches visa processing.

While the Department notes that the current business model and processing technology are both almost 30 years old, there have been many changes to visas in the intervening period. The most recent of these were announced in April last year, with changes relating to the introduction of the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa only coming into effect in March 2018. 

The current reforms being considered to the Australian visa system by the Department, especially in relation to the modernisation of the broader ITC systems and customer engagement processes, can be seen to be timely responses to tech developments. However, the push to move to greater “self-service” for visa applicants, although appearing positive, may in effect hamper the visa chances of well-intentioned migrants, unfamiliar with the complexities of the Australian visa system.

The importance of understanding the complex considerations of visa processing are clear and getting it wrong can have dire implications. As recent cases have demonstrated (Judge slams 'illogical' decision that homosexuality is fixed at birth, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 March 2018), when assessing visa applications the Department will often take into account diverse considerations relating to the applicant and others named in the visa process. In that particular case, a woman’s application for an Australian spouse visa was refused by the Department as her husband had previously been granted a protection visa on the basis of potential persecution due to his homosexuality.

The Department contended that the woman’s relationship was therefore not genuine in nature, even though the couple had a child together, due to her husband’s previously stated sexual orientation. The Department’s position was upheld by both the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and Federal Circuit Court, but subsequently overturned on appeal to the Federal Court. This case illustrates how a Departmental decision made in relation to another person (the husband), can potentially trigger a visa refusal for an applicant.

In addition to an increased focus on applicants self-assessing, the Department is seeking to dramatically reduce the number of visa categories from the current 99 to around 10. Although this may also appear to engender increased processing efficiencies, the actual result may be to restrict pathways to permanent residency and concurrently increase visa refusals and subsequent appeals.

Of concern to Australian businesses, the result may narrow the visa options for prospective skilled workers, impacting on business innovation, productivity and growth. Additionally, any further contracting of options for pathways to permanent residency risks further effecting Australia’s desirability in the competitive global employment market and may herald a new era of Australia as a country of temporary short-term workers rather than one of permanent migration.

Regardless, Australian business and intending migrants need certainty to plan their futures. 

Post by Najeh Marhaba

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