187 visa cancellations statistics: Not what was expected…

The Freedom of Information (FOI) division of the Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) has been busy posting a lot of information requests on their website. As always, what is published is sometimes newsworthy, other times not.

One request of interest was the cancellation statistics for Subclass 187 – Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visas under section 137Q of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). This previously applied to the now repealed forerunner to the 187 visa, namely the Subclass 119 and Subclass 857 – Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visas.

Section 137Q is a provision in Australian migration law that enables Home Affairs to cancel granted regional sponsored visas in two situations. The first is if the visa holder does not commence the employment referred to in the nomination within 6 months from the date their visa was granted or when they first enter Australia if their visa was granted when they were offshore. The second is if their employment was terminated within two years from the date it was commenced. To avoid this discretionary cancellation, visa holders must satisfy the Minister that they made a genuine effort to commence and work in the nominated position.

While there are several grounds for any visa to be cancelled, regional sponsored visas along with business visas under section 134, have specific provisions for post-grant cancellation. They act as if they were visa conditions without being named as such. While that division of the Migration Act does have powers to automatically cancel student visas for non-compliance with course requirements, legislation and a proclamation nixed this as a possibility.

The FOI request asked for the 187 visa cancellation statistics by year, location, and citizenship. The disclaimer provided by Home Affairs is that duplicate cancellations may exist, and there is no indication of whether these cancellations were affirmed on review at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) or the now absorbed Migration Review Tribunal (MRT). Furthermore, they do not contain data for 119 visa and 857 visa cancellations, and this is perhaps why there were no 187 visa cancellations in 2012-13 and few in 2013-14, because 119 and 857 visas were repealed and replaced by 187 visas on 1 July 2012.

That being said, the number of 187 visas cancelled for each year were:

2012-13: 0

2013-14: <5

2014-15: 12

2015-16: 23

2016-17: 19

2017-18 (up to May): 21

Given that regional sponsored visa grants were as high as 20,510 in the 2012-13 program year and have gradually decreased to 6221 in the 2017-18 program year, the highest percentage of cancellations was in the last program year at a miniscule 0.34 per cent of visa grants. As policy states the main basis for considering a visa cancellation is on information provided by the employer, a few conclusions may be drawn:

  • The majority of 187 visa holders are fulfilling the employment listed in the nomination;

  • Regional employers are unaware or are unwilling to provide information to the DHA; and

  • Home Affairs have little dedicated resources to investigate any claims other than the most conspicuous ones.

It could, of course, be a combination of any of the above three points.

With the Australian Tax Office sharing data with Home Affairs, it may be that the number of 187 visa cancellations under section 137Q increases as Home Affairs may no longer need to rely on employers contacting them, and instead utilise information such as Pay As You Go payment summaries and tax returns to do the notifying for them.