More Migrants Stuck in Limbo as Bridging Visas Hit Historic High

The number of people currently in Australia under the auspices of the bridging visa program has skyrocketed—including 37,000 whose nationality the Department of Immigration has declined to clarify—reaching a historical high of 195,000.

This represents a spike in numbers of approximately 40,000 people when compared to the previous year, and an increase of almost 90,000 since 2014. Earlier this month the Department confirmed that the number of people living in Australia on temporary visas has also ballooned to a record-breaking high of almost 2.2 million.

The revelation has caused shock and outrage at a time when the government is attempting to crack down on the skilled permanent migration program, following on from a decision to cut the annual permanent intake by up to 20,000 places this year.

The news has drawn significant criticism from industry stakeholders, with the director of Granger Australia, John Granger, describing the government’s current migration program as highly “chaotic”.

“The resources available to the department are limited every year by Government, and yet Government rolls out reform agendas that are not well thought through, that require transitional arrangements and require multiple layers of processing against regulations in the same visa areas,” he said.

“The result of those things is significant delays.”

According to Granger the blame can be largely attributed to the Department’s ongoing blow-out in visa processing times, as well the government’s decision to overhaul both the temporary and permanent migration.

“This results in a significant rise of unwarranted refusals, and transfers time delays and costs over to the Appeals Tribunal,” Granger said.

“The Appeals Tribunal is wasting resources on expensive tribunal members deciding on simple visa matters.”

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s processing time has also come under fire in recent weeks, following revelations that the length of the average processing waiting period has increased from 286 days, to a staggering 381 days over the last six months.

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs has defended the increase in processing times, saying that it was the result of a variety of factors, including the volume of applications received and the increasing complexity of assessment criteria.

“The department monitors feedback, trends, and fluctuating processing times each month to identify issues in specific caseloads, opportunities for continuous business process improvement and client service efficiencies,” the spokesperson said.

The Department has also declined to provide any further details about the demographic information of the mysterious 37,000 unaccounted for bridging visa holders.

The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, was highly critical of the Department’s ongoing inability to resolve its’ processing backlog, predicting that wait-times will only continue to worsen as a result.

“Given the number of refusals by the Department over the past 12 months, many which could have been avoided by a telephone call and request for further documents, our view is that these delays will only increase,” Lingham said.

“Our understanding is that the Department has been given a directive to refuse applications wherever possible, and this has been backed up by reports that approximately 50% of permanent applications under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) have been rejected in recent months.”

“This is a worrying trend for a Department whose prices have significantly increased, whilst service and processing quality has decreased. If this were a public organisation with competition, it would have gone out of business a long time ago,” he said.

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