The business community has cautioned against a federal government review of the country’s visa system amid concerns about public negativity towards skilled migrants.
The Turnbull government has released a consultation paper flagging a number of possible changes to the system, including biometric testing of applicants, a major reduction in the number of visa types and a mandatory onshore residency period for prospective permanent migrants.
Under the proposals, migrants would have to spend a certain amount of time in Australia before becoming eligible for permanent residency.
The government says most permanent visa categories do not have a provisional stage, allowing applicants to not have had spent any time in Australia before applying for permanent residence.
It’s also considering retaining biometric data from visa applicants to assess their risk towards the public.
And it's flagged another option to cut down the number of visa types from 99 to 10, arguing a simpler visa system would allow faster and user-friendly services.
The government says the current system is ageing and needs reform.
“We're not living now in the late 40s, early 50s, or at a time when Australia needed to 'populate or perish' as the rhetoric was at the time,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said.
Mr Dutton said many people were caught up by the complexity of the conditions around visa categories.
“We hope that through a simplification process, people will be able to navigate their way more effectively through it.”
But the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is concerned about any review being conducted at a time when there’s a perceived negativity around skilled and temporary migration.
“A review in that environment never ends well, in terms of the responsiveness that business needs for the program,” Director of Employment, Education and Training Jenny Lambert told SBS World News.
“What’s lost in the current discourse going on in the public is that really important benefit of temporary, skilled migration as well as permanent migration generally.”
Conducting a review when there’s negative sentiment would not lead to good outcomes, Ms Lambert said.
“It leads to a lot of pressure on the government to make changes that are more restrictive,” she said.
“We’re better off to leave the system until the community has a stronger understanding of the benefits of migration.”
The Settlement Council of Australia says while there’s a good case for simplifying a complex system, it remains wary about the reduction in visa categories.
“If you limit that down to only 10 subclasses, we’d want to see there is still sufficient flexibility in that to cater for all the different people with different circumstances coming to Australia,” chief executive Nick Tebbey told SBS World News.
The council is also concerned about the idea of imposing provisional visas for refugees.
“To bring them here on a provisional visa and say they may or may not eventually get permanent residency seems contrary to our protection obligations,” Mr Tebbey said.
Ms Lambert says the perception that a temporary visa is an assured avenue for permanent residency needs to be changed.
“By no means should everybody who is on a temporary migrant visa move towards permanency,” she said.
“It shouldn't be seen as a pathway, an automatic approach.”