International tourism is one of the bright lights of the Australian economy with almost 10 million international visitors to Australia last year and growing around 9% per annum. This contributes almost AUD 50 Billion to the Australian economy per annum, about AUD 3.5 Billion in foreign exchange per month and directly supports more than 100,000 Australian jobs.
The Australian tourist visa processing system was once fair, impartial, transparent and accountable. However recent information surfacing about Australian visitor visa processing indicates that practices under the new Home Affairs super-department are secretive, unfair, deceitful, unaccountable, dishonest, and in some areas even illegal. In addition, even with the relatively new partly privatised procedures forced into the visitor visa application procedure, there is a massive backlog of applications that are being dishonestly dealt with through giving refusals, which is causing massive morale problems in processing staff.
Visitor (Tourist) Visas
Visitor Visa revenue is worth in excess of AUD 1.5 Billion per annum to the Australian Government.
The processing of visitor visas has become secretive and completely divorced from applicants. The objective of the screening process is to screen out people who don’t intend to comply with the term of the visa or don’t intend to return to their home country. The process is also intended to screen out criminals, those who may burden the health and social welfare system, pedophiles, and national security threats.
However, the system is rejecting many bona fide tourists and visitors on statutory grounds such as it’s believed the traveler won’t comply with the terms of the visa or intends to remain in Australia. Previously, visa processing officers if in doubt over an application would seek additional information from the applicant. This practice appears to have ceasedand the applicant has no right or appeal or even no right to query any decision. Any correspondence in relation to an application will just remain unanswered.
The due diligence process on processing applicants has been substantially lowered even though applicants are paying for the service.
The complexity of the application process encourages applicants to use agents. Some of these agents guarantee a 100% success rate. A few agents are claiming to potential applicants that they have connections, but this is hearsay with no corroboration. This would not be the first time that corruption has been associated with visa processing. There have been cases of visas sold by Home Affairs officials for money. However, Home Affairs are planning to solve these alleged corrupt practices by moving all visa decisions to India, out of reach of the agents.
A former staff processing officer in an Asian capital told the writer that they work on a quota system, i.e., a certain percentage of applications must be rejected. A current officer in another Asian capital said that after a certain number of applications are processed each day, the remainder are rejected.
The VFS Monopoly
Approximately five years ago, the then Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship appointed VFS Global as the sole processing partner of visa applications for entry into Australia.
This appointment process of VFS appears to have been undertaken very quietly without the usual press releases accompanying a major policy decision. The lack of transparency in this agreement is dubious at best, where the department selected a single company as a service delivery partner to handle visa applications and the taking of biometric data from applicants on its behalf, which has effectively created a monopoly for VFS Global.
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