Overseas citizens trying to secure Australian visas are having their applications processed quicker, with 25 per cent of the huge backlog slashed in the past few months.
Labor has accused the former coalition government of “deliberately neglecting” immigration after cutting visa wait times since June.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles outlined the figures at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia’s migration conference, saying the visa backlog was down to 755,000 from one million in June.
He forecast it would be down to 600,000 by the end of the year.
Mr Giles said prioritising visa processing was allowing more permanent skilled workers to enter the country.
“(It’s) a substantial reduction from what we saw back in May, delivering on our commitment to provide certainty to businesses and families,” he said.
“We have adjusted policy settings to reflect changed circumstances, something which should have started well before we were elected.
“We have automated straightforward tasks to free up staff to work on more complex visa applications – bread and butter work of a responsible government.”
Mr Giles said the former government had deliberately undermined the temporary skilled work visa by expanding it to low-wage work instead of increasing the salary threshold.
He noted processing times climbed from 36 days in 2015/16 to 70 days in 2017/18, while permanent skilled visa processing times grew from four months in 2015/16 to seven months in 2018/19.
“This was no choice by the Department of Home Affairs – it was deliberate neglect by the government of the day,” he said.
“Widespread uncertainty for businesses and prospective migrants, undermining the attractiveness of Australia … we’ve seen systematic abuse of the visa system, creating a ‘race to the bottom’ where vulnerable workers are mistreated and abused.”
The federal budget contained $36.1 million for visa processing, to increase staff capacity by 500 people for the nine months to cut down the backlog.
The government has announced it will review Australia’s migration system to make sure it is keeping with the times.
“We need a system that attracts and retains talent, a system that is simple, efficient and complementary to the skills existing in Australia,” Mr Giles said.
“International mobility is already important for economic activity. For Australia, this importance will continue to grow over time.”