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PR woes: Priority processing leaves 30,000 applicants hanging

Meld Magazine

Mon Aug 15 2011


APPLICANTS for skilled migration visas are anxious their waiting periods may increase.

Changes to the process, referred to as “priority processing” by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, came into effect on July 1 this year and put applications for skilled migration visas into five categories in order of priority.

Emails were sent out to more than 30,000 applicants in category five stating applications would only be processed after categories one to four were exhausted – leaving category five applicants concerned they would be waiting indefinitely as new applications in higher categories would always have priority over theirs.

Anne*, a 25-year-old public relations graduate from Malaysia, was among those affected. After waiting nearly two years for permanent residency, she is concerned she may now be waiting even longer.

“It’s frustrating that there is no formal service level criteria to processing times and the backlog simply continues to build up… [there is a] lack of transparency in the system,” she said.

The wait has also affected some applicants’ employment prospects, with many employers reluctant to hire people with temporary or bridging visas.

The only job 26-year-old Pakistani Adnan* could find when he graduated from Monash University with a Masters in Accounting two years ago, was a casual position at supermarket chain Woolworths.

He now works an administration job below his skill level, he said.

But Immigration Lawyer Jensen Ma said the changes would speed up processing times for all applicants, including those in category five, as the changes were intended to get through the backlog.

“The program can’t get much harder (than it is now), but at least they are tackling the system and this will benefit the people who are waiting,” Mr Ma said.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said the changes mean overall processing times will fall over the next year, but added the amount of category five applications processed in a particular year will depend on how many other applications are received.

The immigration department estimates processing 10,000 category five applications in 2011 to 2012 based on how many applications they anticipated to get, the spokesman said.

Mr Ma said there were 46,000 cases currently waiting to be processed in category five.

The immigration department spokesman declined to confirm a figure, but said it was slightly lower than 46,000.

Richard*, a 30-year-old business graduate from Singapore, said he has been frustrated by the ongoing changes to the system in the two-and-a-half years since he applied for permanent residency.

And while he did understand the government’s need to tighten restrictions, he felt there was a lack of accountability and transparency from the immigration department.

“I just don’t like the moving target – the requirements for visas keep on changing (and) processing times for visas keep getting pushed out.

“If only they would deliver on what they publish, without changing it, things would be a lot less painful,” he said.

“There is a link you can click which is supposed to give you an automated email with an indication of the time you will be waiting for your application.

“I never received the email.”

Richard also said he did not believe priority processing would help speed up processing times and that immigration lawyers would want to paint a good picture so they would not lose potential clients.

The immigration department spokesman said the department provided clear information to applicants in category five and that they have received positive feedback.

“The department believes providing accurate information to clients is the best way to manage expectations,” he said.

But he also said the department understood some applicants were disappointed their applications were not processed as quickly as they would like.

*The names of applicants have been changed to protect their identities.

Have you had a similar experience? Do tell us in the comments section below.