Amid speculations surrounding offshore visa processing, the Department of Home Affairs has clarified that visa applications continue to be processed during the coronavirus pandemic, but decision delays cannot be ruled out.
International lockdowns to contain the COVID-19 outbreak have triggered visa processing issues across the globe, leading to “significant” processing delays due unavailability of key assessment services and the consequent inability of applicants to meet visa criteria.
In response to SBS Punjabi’s query, a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said: “Visas continue to be processed during the coronavirus pandemic, though some applications may take longer as international shutdowns have made it difficult to source supplementary information like health and character checks.”
- "Visa applications continue to be processed during the coronavirus pandemic," says Home Affairs
- Offshore partner visa applicants "worst-affected" by processing delays, say migration agents
- Waiting periods for partner visa, student visa and skilled visa categories likely to increase further
Migration agents claim while the impact has been felt across the board, certain subclasses, including partner visas, student visas and skilled nominated visas have been worst-affected.
Impact on partner visas:
Australians married to someone who is not an Australian resident will have to wait even longer to be with their spouses or de facto partners, as processing times stretch for offshore partner visa applications amid the outbreak.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, global waiting times for these visas to be processed has risen to almost two years.
Melbourne-based migration agent Ranbir Singh said until all source countries find a way to contain the pandemic, there is a possibility that the processing times may balloon further in times to come.
“The waiting period for subclass 309 Partner (Provisional) visa has been horrendous even in the pre-pandemic times, but now it has stretched beyond a reasonable time-frame and could blow further in months to come. People deserve value for money and faster decisions for this subclass,” said Mr Singh.
He added that earlier he would advise his offshore partner visa clients to apply for a tourist visa while their application was under process.
“But now the international travel ban has also taken away that option from applicants, which means Australians who has a partner or is married to a person from outside the country will have to wait for a very long time to start their lives in Australia,” he added.
Last month, Labor MP Julian Hill had called the federal government to address the estimated backlog of up to 100,000 partner visa applications to kick start migration after the pandemic subsides.
"Right now, understandably with the borders closed, we've seen migration stall, so the low-hanging fruit would seem to be the backlog of partner visas ... [It's] the logical place to kick start our migration program," he said.
Mr Hill did not specify how many more partner visas should be issued but said that the approvals should be "demand-driven".
"Provided you've got the right integrity measures, and that you're weeding out dodgy applications or non-genuine relationships ... I think Australians should have the right to fall in love and marry people from overseas and have their husband or wife come to Australia."
Impact on student visas:
Prospective students whose applications are currently under process will need to wait for the Department of Home Affairs to make a decision on their visas and would only be allowed to travel to Australia once the ban is lifted.
Migration agent Navjot Kailay said the common consensus is that the Department does not seem to be processing offshore student visas at the time.
“We have not received any offshore grants recently and there is no sense in lodging new applications at the time because even if they do get approval, international students have not yet been exempted from the current travel ban. So, I’d advise prospective students to wait for the borders to open, otherwise, you will just be paying the fee and eventually would have to apply for a deferral of your course,” said Mr Kailay.
Impact on skilled nominated visas:
Offshore delivery of the skilled migration program has also been considerably impacted as a result of the COVID-19 induced shutdowns across the globe.
The number of invites for the skilled independent subclass 189 visa, which allows the visa holder to live permanently anywhere in Australia, was only 50 in April – down from 1,750 in March.
While 491 provisional visa which requires skilled migrants to live in regional areas, also suffered a dip in the number of invites.
Mr Kailay said the numbers are aligned with the federal government’s policy which is expected to steer towards supporting Australian workers during the country’s economic recovery and beyond.
“While there is no official confirmation, but whenever there has been unemployment in the country, it is bound to have an impact on overseas skilled migration. The government has already indicated that net overseas migration will fall 30 per cent this year and 85 per cent in the next financial year,” he said.
While the federal government has reiterated that it’s too early to talk about post-pandemic changes to the country’s migration program, Acting Immigration Minister has indicated that migrants with skills critical to the country’s response to COVID-19 and economic recovery could be allowed into the country before the international travel ban is lifted.
“Sometimes you do have very high skilled workers who are critical for the functioning of a business. It might be in my space, for example, in the infrastructure space, one of my other portfolios, that someone who's a very high skilled person operates some of the drilling machines to bore the big tunnels. Now, if you don't have that skilled person there to do that, it puts at risk the rest of the project.
“There will be categories like that which we will have to be thinking about and ensuring that it doesn't impede the progress of the businesses being able to snap back,” Minister Tudge told the ABC.
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