September 21, 2021

4 Ways to Improve the Australian visa Application Process

A few suggestions to the Department of Home Affairs to make the visa application process a little more bearable.

Mark Walsh

I have helped countless migrants navigate the Australian immigration system over the years. I know the process can be long and complicated. A robust immigration system needs balance. Administrative, economic and political factors must balance with the Australian community's expectation of an orderly and fair approach to welcoming new migrants into our country.

Sometimes we get it right. Other times it's clear that improvements are needed. Here are some of my thoughts on areas where the Department of Home Affairs can improve the Australian immigration system.

1. Online Applications – all applications

This is quite an obvious observation, it's 2021, after all! The Department should bring all visa subclass applications online via ImmiAccount.

Applicants can apply for most visa subclasses online. However, there is a significant part of the immigration program that is lagging – family visas.  

All family visa subclasses, except Partners, are still paper-based applications. Carer, Adoption, Child, Parent, Remaining Relative visas– are all still left behind on paper.

Admittedly, some of these family visa subclasses are essentially 'dead'. For example, the Remaining Relative Visa (subclasses 115/835) applicants have an expected application wait time of 50 years! The incredible wait does not encourage further applications, so there appears little incentive for the Department to bring these applications online.

The Contributory Parent Visa (subclasses 143/173) is an example that leaves many scratching their heads. Given that visa application charges for this visa are in the area of AUD50,000, why are applicants not offered the convenience of an online application?

Perhaps the lack of online presence in the family program reflects the government's overall emphasis on demand-driven skilled migration? In recent years, family migration has accounted for approximately one-third of the general migration program. Asa result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this quota is now over half of the program.

It may be the perfect opportunity to bring the remaining family visa applications online, considering the current need for the Department to process these visas more efficiently.

2. Streamlined Visa process

There is an absurd number of different visa subclasses offered in the Australian immigration program. In July 2017, the Department commissioned a public consultation named Transforming Australia's Visa System

One of the areas of focus was to consider streamlining the total number of visa subclasses from 99 to 10. There has been no further action on this as yet, but in my opinion, reducing the number of visa subclasses would have a positive effect for many applicants. Some of the benefits of a streamlined program could include:

Standardised 'core' visa requirements

Slashing the number of visa subclasses and aligning them into more specific categories would standardise 'core' visa requirements. Requirements such as health and character are standard across all visa subclasses.

An issue with the current system is that the administration of these 'core' requirements can often be inconsistent among similar visa subclasses. For example, for a Temporary Graduate Visa (485), the applicant must provide an Australian Federal Police check (or a receipt of an AFP check) at the time of application.  However, with other temporary work visas, applicants can provide an AFP check after lodgement but before the visa application is decided.

Whilst grouping Temporary Graduate Visas and other temporary work visas may not be suitable, bringing similar subclasses together would force legislators to standardise 'core' requirements across groups.

Simplify the online application platform - ImmiAccount

Reducing the number of available visa subclasses could promote a more efficient and manageable ImmiAccount platform. There are currently 15 separate groupings for applications.

Some of the visa groupings and subclasses available on the ImmiAccount website

To complicate matters, there are also different application platforms within these groups. For example, the Temporary Graduate Visa (485/467) and eVisitor visa (651) utilise an old system within ImmiAccount. Australian Citizenship applications are essentially on the central system; however, the attachment of documents page is slightly different.

Clarity of purpose

A streamlined number of visa subclasses means a greater overall focus for the migration program. Potential applicants could approach assessing their eligibility by first understanding which broad group they fit into and whether they meet core requirements within those groups.

The application of streamlining visa subclasses is not new. There has been a previous success with this streamlining approach – the subclass 400 series of visas—more on this in an upcoming article.

3. Communicating Change

This issue is a big one. One of the biggest challenges the Department faces is the way it communicates complex ideas to the public. Immigration legislation and policy change often, but disappointingly it can change without thought to effective communication with the public.

One very frustrating area is in Departmental policy. Applicants often face long waiting times for some visa subclasses. It is not uncommon that even though the legislation doesn't change, the Department make substantive changes to a policy item that affects pending and future applications.

4. Standardised Processing Times

The immigration program has a significant focus on demand-driven skilled migration. It means that processing priorities need to be flexible depending on the economic/ political conditions at any given point.  Take, for example, the COVID-19 pandemic's effect on the Australian economy.

Considering the pandemic's significant and rapid impact on the labour force, the first-come-first-served approach to work visas would not be suitable. Understandably, in this case, the immigration program needs to be flexible and focus on occupations that best serve a post-COVID Australian economy.

However, in emphasising flexibility, the Department often abandons applicants for months or even years without decisions or feedback on their applications.

On a basic human level, this approach to people (and often their first experience with Australia) is poor.  

It may be an overly simplistic approach, but perhaps the Department could cap the number of applications made per year. For example, if the quota of work visas per year is X, the Department could accept (X + 10%) the number of applications per year. The excess could account for any refusals during the year. The Department may even consider drilling down to quotas for individual occupations.

Final thoughts

When applying for an Australian visa, the visa applicant must sign the 'Australian Values Statement'. As part of the statement, the applicant is presented with the concept of the Australian 'fair go':

A ‘fair go’ for all that embraces:
mutual respect;
compassion for those in need;
equality of opportunity for all;

Administering the immigration system is undoubtedly a very complicated logistical task. At the core of our efforts though, we should keep a 'fair go' foremost in our minds. We should be striving to offer the same mutual respect and compassion to visa applicants, as we as Australians expect it from applicants.

Let’s consider the suggestions in this article as ideals to strive for, and perhaps from them will bring forth the Australian 'fair go'.

Photo by Jeshoots on Unsplash


The information provided in this article or anywhere on this website is of a general nature, it does not relate to your specific circumstance. This general information must not be used to form any assessment or opinion on individual visa eligibility. For an individual assessment you must contact us for a consultation session to confirm if you are eligible for any visa.


...and how will the proposed TSMIT increase affect pending and upcoming employer-sponsored visa applications?