Migration agents warn against visa category overhaul


The government's plans to cut down the categories will lead to more application knock-backs, one agent has told SBS News.

Migration agents have warned against the Turnbull government’s plans for a major visa overhaul to drastically reduce the number of categories on offer, saying it would impact the success rate for applicants.

The Coalition is waiting on advice from the Department of Home Affairs on how to cut the current 99 visa categories down to 10 in what would be the single biggest immigration change in more than two decades.

“It’s going to be very difficult to handle all of the applications, the type of applications that 99 visa categories handle, and narrow them down to ten visa subclasses,” Canberra migration agent Jason Browne told SBS News.

Mr Browne believes that with fewer categories applicants will be more likely to go it alone with their paperwork and it will undoubtedly result in more visa rejections.

“Immigration law is not easy. Individuals and businesses doing their own visa applications … there is going to be an increase in refusals and appeals,” he said.

Simplifying the system

The Home Affairs Department’s rationale for the move is to curb rising net overseas migration and reduce the cost of the “ill-suited” visa system which it has labelled “an artefact of a bygone era”.

On its website, it argues that a more flexible system would help the government to ‘attract new and better migrants where they arise’.

By comparison, the United States has an even more complication system with some 185 different types of visas available.

According to department figures, the volume of visa and citizenship applications is forecast to increase by around 50 per cent within the next 10 years, to around 13 million applications annually.

Param Jaswal, managing director at the Imperial College of Australia, has been navigating the visa system for more than 20 years to enable foreign students to study in Australia.

“It’s still very complicated for an individual to go through the number of subclasses on the Immigration Department website and just to identify which subclass will suit their particular requirement … it becomes very complex,” he told SBS News.

Further changes ahead

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton announced the government’s intention to shake up the visa categories last year.

The government then accepted public submissions over a seven-week period, receiving a total of 255.

A summary of the public consultation process suggests there is strong support for a visa system that is “easy to navigate”.

Even so, the majority of those who put in submissions to the government-backed “the retention of some kind of pathway from temporary to permanent residence”.

It follows a number of changes in recent years that have reduced the opportunities for migrants to gain permanent residency in Australia including reforms to the popular 457 skilled visa program.

Also under consideration is a new provisional visa system that would not afford applicants the same access to welfare payments and services that permanent residents are currently entitled to.

“This is a huge change,” Anna Boucher, senior lecturer in public policy and political science at the University of Sydney, told SBS News.

“It could see a wholesale change in what visa categories we have and secondly a fundamental shift from Australia as a country of permanent settlement to one where temporary migration is more and more the status quo.”

While Labor supports the idea of simplifying the visa system in principle, shadow immigration minister Shayne Neumann said closing off pathways to permanent residency could create an “underclass” of migrants in Australia.

“The government looks like it’s got an agenda here,” he told SBS News.

”Who can argue against visa simplification? But if it’s a method by which the government tries to create an underclass in the country, that’s not a good thing”.  

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