Permanent migration numbers expected to be down 10% due to integrity checks, processing delays

In a Senate Estimates Committee hearing this week, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) confirmed that Australia’s permanent migration intake will fall short of the 190,000 places allocated this programme year, the media reported.

It was revealed that skilled and family visas are subject to more scrutiny because new databases have been added to the integrity checking mechanism used as part of the assessment of visa applications. More checking brings more ‘hits’ and these have to be resolved, according to the secretary for the department. What databases remain unclear due to confidentiality and operational secrecy.

The expected shortfall of 20,000 permanent visas not being granted this programme year is over 10 per cent of the total number allocated.

It is evident that visa processing has slowed considerably over recent years. A recent Freedom of Information request for on-hand permanent employer sponsored visas, which are the Subclass 186 – Employer Nomination Scheme visa and Subclass 187 – Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visa, yet to be processed as of 31 October 2017 was over 7080 primary visa applications. The actual number of visas to be issued from these 7080 applications if approved will obviously be much higher because it does not account for the unlisted number of secondary applicants (partners, children, and in a few legacy cases aged dependent relatives) who are combined with the primary applicant in these applications. Applications taking longer than 12 months to be decided make up over 40 per cent of the total on-hand number. Subclass 186 and 187 visas are a quarter of the total migration intake.

What the secretary did not divulge in the hearing is perhaps the worst kept secret in the industry, and a very good reason for the delay. During the February 2018 roadshows on employer sponsored visa changes, it was reported that the DHA had made known that 70 per cent of the case load for 186 and 187 visas was considered high risk. The refusals for 186 visas had increased from 8 per cent two years ago to 30 per cent. Refusals for 187 visas increased from 13 per cent to a staggering 50 per cent.

Given this, perhaps it is no wonder processing times for 187 visas under the Direct Entry stream is currently listed at 21 months for 75 per cent of applications and 23 months for 90 per cent of applications being finalised within that period.