Overseas citizens trying to get Australian visas are seeing their applications processed faster, with the huge backlog reduced by 25% in recent months.
Labor has accused the former coalition government of ‘deliberately neglecting’ immigration after cutting visa waiting times since June.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles presented the figures at the Australia Economic Development Committee’s migration conference, saying the visa backlog had fallen to 755,000 from one million in June.
He predicted it would drop to 600,000 by the end of the year.
Mr Giles said prioritizing visa processing allowed more permanent skilled workers to enter the country.
“(This is) a substantial reduction from what we saw in May, delivering on our commitment to provide certainty for businesses and families,” he said.
“We have adjusted the political settings to reflect changing circumstances, something that should have started long before our election.
“We have automated simple tasks to free up staff to work on more complex visa applications – the bread and butter of responsible government.”
Mr Giles said the former government deliberately undermined the temporary skilled worker visa by extending it to low-wage work instead of raising the wage threshold.
He noted that processing times fell from 36 days in 2015/16 to 70 days in 2017/18, while processing times for qualified permanent visas fell from four months in 2015/16 to seven months in 2018/ 19.
“It was not a choice on the part of the Home Office – it was willful neglect on the part of the government at the time,” he said.
“Widespread uncertainty for businesses and potential migrants, undermining Australia’s attractiveness…we have seen systematic abuse of the visa system, creating a ‘race to the bottom’ where vulnerable workers are mistreated and abused.”
The federal budget provided $36.1 million for visa processing, to increase staff capacity by 500 people for the nine months to reduce the backlog.
The government has announced that it will review Australia’s migration system to ensure it keeps up with the times.
“We need a system that attracts and retains talent, one that is simple, effective and complementary to existing skills in Australia,” Mr Giles said.
“International mobility is already important for economic activity. For Australia, this importance will continue to grow over time.”
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