The government has scrapped plans to outsource its visa processing system.

Acting Minister for Immigration, Alan Tudge, announced last Friday that the Department for Home Affairs was terminating its tender process for the Global Digital Platform.

He said it was part of “new policy approach to the acquisition and delivery of workflow processing capability” for Home Affairs – and government as a whole – and indicated the government remained interesting in updating the current process.

“While current visa systems continue to function, they are out of date, and processing and decision making in many cases is still undertaken manually, supported by old technology and limited risk assessment capabilities,” Tudge said in a statement.

The canned Global Digital Platform had been in tender since 2018 when Home Affairs announced it was going to spend over $70 million going to market to upgrade the visa system.

Australian Visa Processing (a consortium consisting of companies like PwC, Ellerston Capital, Qantas Ventures, NAB, and Pacific Blue Capital), and the team-up of Australia Post and Accenture had been vying to take over the project before it was canned.

In its now defunct request for tender, the government said it aimed to “bring new technologies and innovative solutions” to the implementation of a new platform for visa processing.

The request for tender also highlighted how legacy technology and manual processes weren’t capable of “delivering the digital-first, modern and sophisticated services increasingly desired by the Australian Government”.

Earlier this week, the MyGov website crashed under the load of newly unemployed Australians.

Keeping control over visas

The government’s move to backtrack on its upgrade was welcomed by the opposition with Shadow Assistant Immigration Minister, Andrew Giles, saying the current coronavirus situation made outsourcing visa processing untenable.

“The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of the Australian Government retaining control of our borders and visa processing system,” Giles said.

“At its core, privatising our visa system would have resulted in a tension between integrity and profit – it would have undermined Australia’s national security.”

Giles also said it was “a win for the thousands of hard-working public servants” who currently undertake the visa processing system.

This sentiment was echoed by national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), Melissa Donnelly who was a scathing opponent of the outsourced visa processing scheme.

“What is extraordinary is that it took a global health pandemic for the government to see the flaws of this plan,” Donnelly said.

“It is simply irresponsible for any government to hand over our visa system to private interests.

“When our nation is facing great uncertainty, Australians expect the Government to back local jobs and the integrity of vital public services, not flog off essential services to political donors’ multi-national companies.”