Certain individuals can now pay to have their Australian visa applications processed more quickly under a priority service scheme.
The trial scheme, which came into effect on 15 March 2016, is currently limited to Chinese passport holders applying for subclass 600 visitor visas in the business or tourist streams. Individuals seeking priority processing are required to pay $1,000 for the expedited service, in addition to the base visa application charge of $135.
The scheme has been implemented in response to the recommendations contained in the Federal Government’s 2015 White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. That paper seeks to capitalise on Northern Australia’s tourist attractions and boost numbers of incoming visitors, recognising particularly Chinese and Indian tourists as crucial to this market.
Despite the large fee, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) does not guarantee that an application will in fact be processed on a faster basis, nor does payment of the fee guarantee a positive outcome on the visa application itself. The legislation which introduced the scheme does not hold DIBP to any minimum timeframes for processing under the priority service, and no refund will be provided if the visa application processing is not ultimately expedited. Visa applicants must still meet all health, character and other relevant criteria. The success of the scheme is thus likely to be dependent on DIBP’s ability to implement the service in line with applicant expectations around what “priority” actually means. The White Paper suggested 48 hours as an example.
The trial scheme is, to our knowledge, the first time Australia’s immigration program has offered a “pay for priority” processing service on the basis of a set fee; its only distant relative is the Contributory Parent visa, introduced in 2003 with a significantly higher visa application charge but faster processing time than other parent visas. By contrast, other countries, including the USA, have had priority processing schemes in place for years.
While supporting the development of Northern Australia was a key driver for implementation of the trial scheme, the government will no doubt be closely watching its success to assess options for the expansion of the expedited service to other nationalities and visa types. Such an approach has the potential to be a huge revenue-raising exercise for the government.
In the 2014/2015 immigration program year, 388,815 independently-travelling Chinese nationals were granted Australian visitor visas. This was an increase of 27.1% on the previous year, and the 2015/2016 numbers are only projected to be higher. If, for example, the priority service option was taken up by only 1% of the estimated 400,000 independently-travelling Chinese visitor visa applicants this year, DIBP would fill its pockets with an extra $4 million. When one considers the revenue potential should the priority service offering be extended to, for example, partner visa or subclass 457 visa applications, one suspects this new approach is here to stay.
Please contact Nomos for further information or assistance with your immigration and citizenship matters.