Skilled migrants, and the organisations employing them, are stuck waiting for the Department of Home Affairs to process their visas as it struggles with high demand and the consequences of an $875 million budget shortfall.
Maximum processing times for the short-term stream of the Temporary Skills Shortage visa have ballooned out to 15 months, according to Home Affairs, while medium-term skills visas can take up to nine months to be approved.
The Temporary Skills Shortage visa was introduced in 2018, replacing the 457 visa, and has been the government’s go-to mechanism for bringing skilled IT workers into the country through its Skills Priority Occupation List of 44 prioritised roles including software engineer, security specialist, and developer.
Last year, software engineers were the largest single cohort of skilled visas coming into Australia, making up nearly nine per cent of the total temporary skilled visa program, data from Home Affairs shows.
The new government is aware the long processing times will only exacerbate the skills shortage problem, saying in a recent statement from the National Cabinet that it would “urgently work to address a backlog in processing visa applications in areas of skills shortages”.
New Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has been tasked with doing just that, telling the ABC on Monday that he was “thinking about the policy options as well as the resource allocations that are needed to get things moving”.
“We’ve also got to make sure that the short-term action that we are taking here and now to deal with the urgent crisis is consistent with a vision of re-building the economy, re-building and re-skilling Australian jobs, and boosting our economy into the future,” he said.
Giles blamed the previous government for the backlog, saying it had facilitated “nine years of neglect” of the immigration function.
One potential cause has been the $875 million budget cut handed to Home Affairs in the last Federal Budget which slashed funding for migration processing, which former bureaucrats have said tanked the department’s morale and moved focus away from reducing processing times and towards finding ways of patching budgetary holes.
Australia is already struggling to compete in a global talent market that risks seeing junior developers head overseas to pursue bigger pay packets.
Long wait times for visas are only set to compound the problem, making Australia a less attractive location for skilled IT workers looking to extend their careers.
Director of construction firm Laing O’Rourke, Josh Murray, recently told the Australian Financial Review that the cost and difficulty of securing a visa at the moment was hampering recruitment.
“Candidates are baulking at accepting positions with uncertain timeframes because of the logistics involved – leaving their current projects, selling homes or breaking rental agreements, planning school changes – or [are] unwilling to deal with the post-COVID mental load of a life in visa limbo,” he said.
New Zealand recently made a play for skilled migrants by lowering the requirements for employers looking to employ people from overseas and making it easier for temporary migrants to apply for residence.