There is still a backlog of around 740,000 visas to be processed despite the government treating it as a high priority, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said on Wednesday.
Back in June it was revealed that an $875 million budget shortfall at the Department of Home Affairs, which processes immigration applications, was causing processing times to balloon out to as long as 15 months for Temporary Skills Shortage visas.
“We can't clear this backlog overnight, but we are seeing results,” Giles said during Question Time.
“We have seen 3.4 million visas processed and finalised since 1 June, and we are on track to hit our target of 600,000 applications on-hand by the end of the year.”
Giles added that there were even cases of applications for partner visas that had been sitting in the queue since 2013.
“In fact, just two days ago we finalised a case that had been on the books for nine years – nine years of people being separated from their loved ones, including, in many cases, their children,” he said.
“These are the real human consequences of a decade of neglect.”
The government is preparing an overhaul of the migration system following a review to be handed down next year.
Its aim is to make access to skilled migrants more efficient, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said earlier this month.
“We’ve ended up with a system where there’s massive visa queues and where the people who actually legitimately want to use the system can’t properly use it – and yet criminals who want to bring people into the country as slaves are able to somehow do it,” she said in reference to a report from the Nine papers about how organised criminals were abusing the migration system.
“We’ve got to change the way that this system operates.”
There have been calls for an overhauled system to reduce the need for employers to conduct market testing – where they have to prove imported workers aren't doing jobs local Australians could do – in order to simplify the migration process.
This week the Grattan Institute published research claiming an increased Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold to $70,000 a year – up from the current $53,9000 – would reduce exploitation of migrant workers and simplify the migration process.
The threshold is a lower limit for how much migrants can earn to be eligible to enter Australia on skilled visas, with Grattan suggesting a higher threshold could lead to “sponsors of high-wage migrants having applications granted in as little as two weeks”.
Lengthy visa processing delays were causing havoc for business and recruiters who were facing a post-COVID skills crisis with not enough people available to work in jobs across industries.
Australian companies unable to bring staff into the country leaned hard on hiring overseas remote workers at a rate more than double the global average – with software engineering an unsurprisingly needed skillset.
The government prioritised 60,000 skilled visas in July but has since ripped IT roles – including cyber security and programming – from the list of occupations used to decide who gets fast-tracked into the country.
This is a particularly worrying sign for the cyber security industry which has faced a reckoning in recent months with the severe Optus and Medibank data breaches.
A recent AustCyber report predicts only 2,400 new skilled migrants will join Australia’s cyber security workforce over the next three years and, combined with a relatively low number of domestic graduates and people changing careers, will result in a significant shortfall in the number of people in the country with relevant cyber security skills.