Plans to outsource visa processing are scary, says former immigration official
Australian immigration and asylum Plans to outsource visa processing are scary, former immigration official says
Fears about âfrighteningâ potential for private provider to create âfast and slow lanesâ
A Department of Home Affairs plan to outsource visa processing will lead to increased automation and âpremiumâ services that could undermine the integrity of the system, a former senior immigration official has warned.
Abul Rizvi, a former departmental deputy secretary, told Guardian Australia the potential for a private provider to create a fast and slow lane for processing had âfrighteningâ long-term implications and the proposed use of applicantsâ data for marketing purposes was âappallingâ.
Rizvi joins the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia in expressing concern about the outsourcing plan, which has not received a final sign-off from the cabinet after months of testing the market for expressions of interest.
In February Guardian Australia reported that departmental briefings to industry had revealed that a successful private bidder could offset the $1bn cost of a new visa processing system by raising revenue through âpremium services for high-value applicantsâ, different access for those able to pay more, and âcommercial value-added servicesâ, such as off ers from banks, telcos and tourist operators.
Rizvi said he was âvery concernedâ about the prospect of premium services because âthere would inevitably be an incentive for the company to be more facilitative with regard to subjective criteria for applicants who have paid for the fast laneâ.
âAny monopoly provider would want to maximise charges for the fast lane and try to drive as many applicants as possible into that lane.â
He said applicants whocould not afford the higher charges were likely to come to Australia on visitor visas and apply for other visas after arrival, exacerbating âintegrity problemsâ caused by the existing backlog of people in Australia because of the departmentâs âextraordinarily poor administrationâ.
In July, the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, boasted about a decline in permanent migration, despite industry warning that the government was âthrottling back the rate of migration by stealthâ through long er wait times.
Rizvi predicted that outsourced visa processing would lead to tension between the Department of Home Affairsâ increased use of âsubjective criteriaâ for certain visas and the private operatorâs desire for increased automation.
âThe company or companies that win these tenders will want to automate decision-making as much as possible to minimise costs.â
Rizvi said it was appalling that âextraordinarily personal informationâ such as an applicantâs relationship status, job, income and health could be used by a commercial firm for marketing purposes.
The chairwoman of the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia, Mary Patetsos, said it would be âvery concernedâ about commercialisation of applicant information. She also opposed measures that could lead to an increased cost of visas, particularly for family and partner visas.
âAustralia has a long-standing reputation for its impartial, fair and transparen t immigration system,â she said. âIt should not be put at risk.â
Patetsos warned that premium services âcould undermine fairnessâ. âThe opportunity to bring family to Australia to live or visit for extended periods should be available to all Australians â" not just the wealthy.â
She said it would be unacceptable for Australian families of limited means to be denied family reunion, which was âintegral to successful settlement, social cohesion and wellbeingâ.
The deputy national president of the CPSU, Lisa Newman, said a two-tiered visa processing system âwill lead to dangerous outcomesâ, with the operating company incentivised to to put its profits ahead of the need to assess âgold-platedâ visa applicants to the same standards applied to those who could not afford to pay a premium.Australia's immigration rate to fall again as work visa approvals drop Read more
âIt would also give the company an incentive to further delay processing times for regular customers to try to force them into upgrading.â
She called on the Coalition to abandon the proposal.
The CPSU intends to campaign on the visa outsourcing issue at the next federal election, targeting the immigration minister David Colemanâs seat of Banks, and other electorates with a high number of Australians born overseas, including in western Sydney.Labor could refer plans to outsource visa processing to Senate estimates Read more
Tender requests went to the market in July and there have been industry briefings in Sydney, Canberra, San Francisco, Singapore and Bengaluru, as well as consultation by the Department of Home Affairs with its workforce.
Groups reportedly keen to bid include a joint venture between Accenture and Australia Post, and a consortium involving Pacific Blue Capital, Qantas Ventures, PwC and Ellerston Capital.
Pacific Blue Capital is run by Malcolm Turnbullâs fo rmer employee and friend Scott Briggs. In September, Labor signalled it would pursue the governmentâs planned outsourcing of the $1bn visa processing system in Senate estimates and called on ministers linked to Briggs to recuse themselves from consideration of the outsourcing proposal.Topics
- Australian immigration and asylum
- Australian politics
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