Australia to privatise visa system to save cost

Armed AFP would guard Australian airports under a security shake-up proposed by Victoria's premier. (AAP)

The government could let private companies perform visa-related works, including fraud detection, administering tests and recommending decisions on visa applications.

Large parts of Australia’s visa processing systems could soon be privatised under the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to keep the cost of operations within the budget in view of the ever-increasing visitors.

The government is preparing to introduce changes to the immigration system to let private companies administer tests, detect fraud and recommend visa outcomes. The department is in touch with companies overseas and has invited them to design a new visa system involving artificial intelligence and robotics, Fairfax Media has reported.

“The visa system is under growing pressure in managing increasing volumes of visa applications and travellers,” the DIBP said in an industry consultation paper.

“It is envisaged that leveraging market capability, technology and services will improve the client experience and streamline processes for those seeking to visit or migrate to Australia.”

In his speech before a Senate Estimates Hearing, Michael Pezzullo, Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection stressed on the need for expanding the use of technology and modernisation in view of funding cuts.

The DIBP is slashing 570 jobs and its budget allocation has decreased by $165 million this financial year. Over the next four years, the department is expected to face a cut of $1 billion whereas the number of travellers and the volume of inbound goods are on the rise.

“In the face of a challenging operating environment we are increasingly relying on automation and improved intelligence to achieve the necessary efficiencies and productivity gains, enabling us to do more with less,” Mr Pezzullo told the Senate Estimates hearing. 

“This includes the use of automated clearance technology at airports, encouraging greater online visa application take-up and improving our ability to target those who wish to do our country harm through enhanced intelligence and identity capabilities.”

According to media reports, over the next ten years, contracts worth $9 billion from the Immigration department will be awarded to private companies and the increased cost burden could be passed onto migrants and travellers in the form of visa fees.  

The department could outsource visa related works, such as sending letters advising applicants of visa outcomes and issuing notifications, detecting fraud in applications etc.

However, the DIBP will continue to control security assessments, intelligence work, enforcement, decisions on cases requiring human judgment and decision reviews.  

"The department would retain functions where direct control is necessary for ensuring government sovereignty over decision-making and the protection of the Australian community," an industry consultation paper released by the DIBP said.

The Department says it may hold briefings with industry players in Sydney, Canberra, San Francisco, Singapore and Bengaluru.  

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