Processing times for an important skilled worker visa have more than doubled and the number of migrants languishing on bridging visas has increased six-fold, a new report warns.
The Migrant Workers Centre on Friday released a report documenting the deterioration in Australia’s visa processing system, which found processing times for the 887 skilled regional visa has more than doubled since 2018.
It is now taking at least 24 months for the government to process an application for an 887 visa, which rewards people who have lived and worked in specified areas of regional Australia, providing a pathway to permanent residency.
That’s up from a processing time of 10 months in mid-2018, the report said.
The report found the number of migrants on bridging visas has increased from 60,795 in 2014 to 333,357 in 2022, the report found. It also warned that the processing delays are leaving migrants without working rights and at “greater risk of labour exploitation” and wage theft.
“Living on a visa with an impending expiry makes anyone insecure,” the MWC report warns.
“Australia gains nothing from not allowing people to get settled and making them vulnerable to exploitative work conditions.”
Migrants who have applied for the 887 visa are preparing to protest across the country on Friday, angry at the worsening delays.
Among them will be engineer Brijesh Batra, based in regional Victoria, and who has been waiting for his 887 visa for almost 14 months.
He says he was sacked from his job in 2020 because, without permanent residency, he was not eligible for jobkeeper.
Batra said he got no support from the government throughout Covid, because of his visa status.
“For three or four months I had no income, no support from the government,” he said. “That was one of the worst periods of my life.”
Even now, the lack of permanent residency denies him work opportunities and adds significantly to the cost of buying a home. It has left him questioning whether he wants to remain in Australia.
“I am 43, I still don’t have a house of my own, I can never feel like I’m settled in any country, because the roots are not strong,” he told the Guardian.
He has heard “nothing back at all” from the department about his application, but its website says processing times for the 887 visas are now at 24 months. Three-quarters of all applications are taking more than two years to decide.
The Migrant Workers Centre report warns a lack of staffing in the home affairs department is compounding the problem.
“An important reason for the visa processing delay and the existing backlog of onshore visa applications is the Department having not allocated enough resources to the services,” the report said.
“In the last decade, although the number of people who may make onshore visa applications has rapidly increased, the Department has reduced the number of officers assigned to onshore visa processing.”
Protests over the delays to 887 visa processing are planned for Friday in Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart and Brisbane.
Protest organisers say tens of thousands of 887 visa applicants, living in Australia right now, are facing massive delays.
The government said it has made processing the backlog an “urgent priority” and the immigration minister, Andrew Giles, said he has directed the department to devote more staff to help process visas.
In July, Giles said he was assessing all options available to address the backlog. Staff previously focussed on travel exemptions for Covid had been redirected to visa processing, and a surge capacity has been established for overtime work, drawn from across the department and the Australian Border Force.
“The former government devalued immigration, with the visa application backlog increasing to nearly 1,000,000 on their watch,” he said at the time. “The Albanese government is determined to reduce the backlog and restore the importance of the immigration function of our government.”