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Slow visa processing: The real issue behind a flailing migration system 

The Refugee Council of Australia has cast doubt on media claims of an “industrial scale visa scam”, pinpointing the deliberate slowing down of visa processing by the previous government as the key issue behind the backlog of people waiting for onshore processing.  

This comes after government reviews following a major investigation by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes into allegations of widespread visa rorting linked to sex trafficking, drug crimes and the exploitation of foreign workers. 

It is factually incorrect to say that “visa scams have brought up to 100,000 workers into Australia using false claims”, especially when the vast majority of these applicants are yet to have their claims for refugee protection assessed or reviewed. 

Australian Government statistics reveal that 70% of the 96,371 people in the onshore processing process are waiting for a decision from Home Affairs, Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) or courts. 

Home Affairs onshore protection statistics for September 2022 show that 26,315 people are waiting for an initial decision on asylum claims and 70,056 are still in Australia after an initial refusal. Of those 70,000, 37,830 are waiting for the AAT to review their refugee cases, as of 31 October 2022.  

Responses to questions in Senate Estimates reveal that, in August 2021, 3,523 people were waiting for courts to review their cases. If a similar number are still waiting for court decisions, this would mean that around 67,700 people are waiting for decisions on their status and only 28,700 are still in Australia not appealing a visa refusal. 

The 67,700 undecided cases weren’t built overnight. In 2021-22, Home Affairs received just 10,564 new onshore protection visa applications and 11,684 in 2020-21.  

The backlog in cases began to grow from around 2016-17 when annual onshore protection visa grants fell below 2000. The Refugee Council of Australia questioned why just 1425 onshore protection visas were issued in 2017-18 and exactly 1650 visas in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, despite the growing number of undecided claims.  

The Department of Home Affairs denied a cap was in place but the evidence suggests otherwise. The fault lies with past ministers, particularly Peter Dutton who oversaw the policy when the backlog of unresolved cases grew most rapidly.  

To address the problem, the Australian Government must put more resources into the Department of Home Affairs, AAT and courts to clear the backlogs in decision-making. This will remove any negative incentives to lodge unmeritorious claims for asylum and improve fairness and efficiency for those needing protection. 

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