Individuals and Travellers

Policy Consultation Paper - Visa Simplification: Transforming Australia’s Visa System

Public consultations on designing the new visa system concluded on 15 September 2017.

Australia is an open and welcoming country.  People come to Australia for a range of reasons and their stay in Australia might be on a temporary or permanent basis.

The eligibility of people other than citizens to enter and remain in Australia is underpinned by Australia’s visa system.  This system needs to be efficient in facilitating the arrival of people who have a legitimate purpose for coming to Australia, be it for tourism, study or as an entrant under the permanent migration programme.  It also needs to be robust in protecting Australia from those who have no legitimate purpose or who could even wish to do us harm.

Australia's migration settings and underlying visa system must meet our nation’s needs. As a nation built on migration, it is important that the public has confidence that migration is being managed well.

While our visa system has served the nation well, it needs modernising. Australia needs a visa system that is more responsive to our economic, social and security interests.

The Australian Government sought your views on what our future visa system should look like. Public consultations on designing the new visa system concluded on 15 September 2017.

This paper provides a general overview of those aspects of Australia’s visa system, which the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has been tasked with reviewing.  Key areas for consideration included:

  • the scope for a reduction in the number of visas from 99 at present, to approximately ten visas;
  • the delineation between temporary entry and long-term or permanent residence;
  • the role a period of provisional residence could play in enhancing the integrity of the visa system and easing the burden on taxpayers; and
  • ensuring that our visa system supports Australia as a competitive and attractive destination for temporary and longer-term entrants.

This paper presents a number of key statements and questions that underpin each of the visa simplification priorities, but do not presuppose any specific outcome. Your responses will be used to inform advice to Government on a future design of our visa system.

Simplifying our visa arrangements

Australia’s visa system has served the nation without significant change for almost 30 years. Over that time, global migration patterns have changed and so have Australia’s needs.

Since the early 1980s, the permanent migration programme has fluctuated from 52,600 places to a planning level of up to 190,000 places in 2017-18. 

Temporary migration has also increased, with almost 8.5 million temporary visas granted in financial year 2016‑17.

In coming years, border crossings are likely to grow from almost 40 million each year to reach nearly 50 million by 2020.

Australia’s visa system is in many respects an artefact of a bygone era and is ill suited to this future. The visa system is highly complex, with 99 individual visa types.

This makes it difficult for visitors and other entrants to navigate and understand, and challenging for the Government to administer.  It also affects Australia’s attractiveness as a destination of choice for some travellers.

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.

Broader visas based clearly around intent, such as visit, study and work, would enable prospective travellers to better understand which visa to apply for, and enable faster processing of applications.

A simpler visa system would enable benefits to be realised through delivery of fast, simple and user friendly services, supported by greater digitisation and innovative technology that will transform the client experience.

Key statements:

  • The Government maintains the sovereign right to determine who comes to Australia
  • Complex visa systems are expensive to maintain and difficult to navigate
  • Australia’s visa system must support national economic, social and security interests

Questions

  • What would a system with approximately 10 visas look like?
  • What factors should we consider when simplifying the visa system?
  • What should be the key characteristics of a simplified and flexible visa system?

Temporary and permanent residence

The number of persons in Australia applying for permanent residence has grown substantially over the last two decades. In 2015-16, around half of all permanent visas were granted to people already in Australia on a temporary visa.  This means that temporary residence is increasingly becoming the first step to living in Australia permanently. 

Persons holding a temporary visa do not have an automatic right to remain in Australia beyond the term of that visa.  However, it is often in the national interest for Australia to facilitate a pathway to permanent residence for some temporary visa holders.  For example, the Australian economy benefits from the retention of the best and brightest international students and certain skilled workers, as envisioned through the Government’s recent introduction of the Medium to Long Term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL).

The settlement prospects of temporary residents are also strengthened by the experience they have already gained in Australia, and their familiarity with Australian customs, culture and laws.  However, such a temporary period of residence is not a uniform prerequisite to attaining permanent residence.

Some permanent visa categories include provisional visa stages which must be met prior to the grant of a permanent visa.  Most of the permanent visa categories, however, do not have a provisional stage, and applicants do not have to spend any time in Australia prior to applying for – or being granted – permanent residence. Permanent residents might also be eligible to receive welfare payments and services.

Australia’s approach differs from like-minded countries.  For example, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United States and others have a more formal assessment process and period for evaluating those who seek to stay permanently.

Key statements

  • Temporary visas are for specific, short-term activities (i.e. visit, study, temporary skilled work) only
  • Temporary visa holders do not have an automatic right to permanent residence
  • Permanent visas allow for the stay of persons whose long-term residence in Australia will benefit the Australian community.

Questions

  • What distinctions should apply to temporary and permanent visas?
  • What requirements should underpin a migrant’s eligibility for permanent residence? 
  • Should a prospective migrant spend a period of time in Australia before becoming eligible for permanent residence? What factors should be considered?

Modernising Australia’s visa arrangements

Temporary and permanent migration both bring significant benefits to Australia. Tourism and international education are critical to Australia’s economy. Temporary and permanent workers complement the Australian workforce to assist us to fill skills gaps. Family migrants reunite families and retain skilled Australians onshore, enhancing Australian society.

The success of Australia’s migration programme hinges on our ongoing attractiveness as a destination and our ability to be globally competitive in the market for the world’s best and brightest migrants, visitors and students. While Australia has traditionally been an attractive destination, this is not something we can take for granted as global competition for visitors and migrants continues to increase.

Australia is a great place to visit, live and work. A visa system alone cannot make Australia an attractive nation, but it should not detract from a prospective migrant’s desire to come to Australia.

A flexible and agile visa system would allow the Government to respond quickly to local and global trends, capitalising on opportunities to attract new and better migrants where they arise. Simplifying the visa framework to make it more straightforward and easier for tourists, students, business people and other legitimate travellers to visit our shores will maintain and enhance Australia’s competitiveness and attractiveness.

As caseloads increase, so do processing times, which might undermine a prospective migrant’s desire to come to Australia. Partnering with industry to enhance technological and biometric capabilities will allow Government to more efficiently confirm an individual’s identity and assess their risk profile quickly. This will allow for the seamless processing of low risk applicants, and in turn focus resources on higher risk cohorts. This will improve processing overall, therefore removing any potential barriers the visa system might pose to prospective migrants.

Key statements

  • Tourism, temporary migration and permanent migration benefit Australia economically and socially
  • Remaining an attractive destination for the migrants we want is important for Australia’s future
  • Australia’s visa system should be efficient in facilitating the entry of genuine travellers

Questions

  • What role does the visa system play in ensuring Australia remains attractive to the best and brightest temporary and permanent migrants?
  • Do you think an efficient visa system that is simple to understand and quickly assesses risk will make Australia a more attractive destination? Why?
  • To what extent should the Government collect biometrics from visa applicants?