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Government plans to privatise the visa application system

Source: SBS

With the new ‘Global Digital Platform’, receiving and processing applications will become exclusively digital.

Government is planning to privatise Australia’s visa application system and is looking for a market provider to work collaboratively to design, implement and operate a Global Digital Platform that will underpin Australia’s new visa business.

In a recent briefing by the first assistant secretary of the Home Affairs Department, Andrew Kefford shared his department’s plan to create an automated ‘global digital platform’ which will operate with limited human involvement.

In a bid to modernise the visa system, the department wants a private-sector player to design, build and operate a commercial visa application and approval system which will process 90% of the applications – in particular short-term and simple applications.

“We expect the successful provider to deliver a global digital platform that is capable of handling all visa products,” Kefford said.

“The department has retained the option to confirm at a later stage whether, longer-term, more complex visa products will be delivered over the global digital platform, but to be clear, that is our preferred approach.”

The briefing mentions the privatisation and modernisation of the visa system would be the “most significant reform to the Australian immigration system in more than 30 years”.

The department also is open to exploring commercial value-added services.

“The government is highly open to exploring commercial opportunities ... provided that these don’t adversely impact on security, privacy or government’s reputation.

“This could include additional value-added services for applicants, such as financial products or connections to Australian accommodation and employment services.”

The Department of Home Affairs currently processes about nine million visa applications a year, a figure expected to grow to 13 million within a decade.

Currently, a quarter of visa applications are on paper and half of all decisions are made manually.

With the new ‘Global Digital Platform’, receiving and processing applications will become exclusively digital. However, the department will continue to process a small number of specialised visas like diplomatic or refugee visas.

The long-term plan for the ‘global digital platform’ will include handling health checks such as scheduling and collection of responses, character or genuineness (whether documents are legitimate) assessments, as well as data collection and verification.

The government expects machine learning and robotic process automation to increase the proportion of visa assessments that can be automated over time.

In more complex cases where decisions cannot be automated, the ‘Global Digital Platform’ will refer these applications, along with supporting information to the Department for decision.

The government plans to invite tenders in July 2018.

Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton told the National Press Club last week the proposal was driven by a need for modernisation, not a desire to privatise the process.

“The issue we have in this modern age is the volume … I don’t have the staff, and never will, to provide the scrutiny that’s required that we can now deliver through technology.”

The tender process would be open to Australian and foreign companies.