Moves to privatise visa processing 'destructive', union says

Australia Passport Source: SBS

The private sector could have a role in citizenship service provision as the government puts visa processing out to tender.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has slammed the federal government over plans to privatise elements of visa and citizenship services.

On Friday, the Home Affairs Department released a tender document, calling for a platform to manage visa applications, decision-making workflows and attract potential visitors and migrants.

It included an option to extend the process to citizenship applications.

"The Australian government will retain the option to extend the scope of the platform for other long-term visas and ultimately citizenship in the future," the tender document says.

But the CPSU took aim at the move, calling it "a destructive plan".

"This government seems unmoved by the 3,000 jobs that are at risk under its plan, and completely oblivious to the disastrous experience of other countries that have already gone down the visa privatisation path," CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said.

Ms Flood also said it was "not an open tender, as only two shortlisted companies are in line to be handed our visa processing system".

"With phase one of this process closing in just over two months on February 20, it looks like the government is racing to sell out our visa processing system before voters can have a say on their plan."

SBS News has contacted the Department of Home Affairs about the CPSU claims.

Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs Michael Pezzullo was grilled about plans to privatise the visa application system at Senate Estimates.
Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs Michael Pezzullo was grilled about plans to privatise the visa application system at Senate Estimates.

The tender papers say getting the private sector to process visas does not involve privatising Australia's visa system or decision making.

"Australia needs a visa system that is easier to understand, better suited to the rapidly growing number of visitors, and flexible enough for Australia to remain a competitive destination for temporary visitors and the longer-term entrants Australia needs," it says.

"The platform must be flexible and able to quickly and efficiently accommodate policy changes made by governments-of-the-day."

As part of the deal, the Home Affairs Department will remain in charge of all visa decision making, national security, risk assessments, and receive all visa application revenue. 

At Senate Estimates in October, officials from the department said the project would require the company to invest $1 billion over 10 years but would promise a larger return "over time".

Department boss Michael Pezzullo described an ailing visa application system that was struggling under the weight of a massive spike in global applications from people who wanted to visit, live or work in Australia.

He said staff at the department were using "multiple logins" to access various "legacy" computer systems, which was giving them a "fragmented view of client identity".

- Additional reporting: AAP

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