As Australia’s newest citizens celebrate this long weekend, other migrants will be struggling to find and complete reams of visa paperwork. 

Starting a new life in a new country is not only expensive and complex, it is also emotionally taxing. For many would-be migrants, bureaucratic processes can turn possibilities into insurmountable obstacles.

One such challenge is the limited amount of easily accessible information on the Department of Home Affairs’ website. The launch of a new interface has exacerbated the issue, as has the department’s disclaimer that it cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in its “Visa Finder”.

George Lombard is a registered migration agent and a Fellow of the Migration Institute of Australia. He’s concerned about how difficult it is to locate the occupation lists which specify the eligibility criteria for certain skilled visas. Additionally, each visa sub-class contains a mix of legislation, regulations and policy – which are often only understood through independent research.

“Most of what happens in immigration depends on what you do for a living,” Mr Lombard said.

“The problem is that searching ‘occupatio’ does’t show you anything. If I want to Google it, I have to rely on lots of experience to find it because the lists are in the archives. That’s just bizarre… it’s shocking in terms of transparency and accessibility.

“It’s an issue we have to deal with every day”. 

George Lombard (Photo: Gabriela Mancilla)


Another migration agent, Stephanie Wright, explains the impact this may have on potential applicants. “The website gives a false sense of security with how over-simplified the information is – often missing crucial complexities,” she said.

” People believe that they can trust all the information on the website, which is often inaccurate.”

This leaves many applicants turning to other sources of information such as expat forums or, for those who can afford it, obtaining independent advice.

For those without representation, access to information is largely dependent on the extent of the individual’s digital literacy. It is a growing concern for practitioners and applicants that a government website – a $36 million investment – may not be the most reliable source of information.

“Basically, it’s job creation. Job creation for us, job creation for the bureaucrats, job creation for the appeals people.” 

Andres* and Claudia* struggled when they decided to move back to Australia.

“It was difficult to understand which visa was the correct one to apply for since there were so many similar visas and a mistake could mean a refusal with no refund,” Andres said.

The young couple found that although the Department of Home Affairs site listed some general information, the complex variables involved meant that the information did not address their specific circumstances. They ultimately felt they had to seek the advice of a migration agent. In hindsight, they say they would have preferred examples of what a successful application looks like.

“Without the agent, we wouldn’t have known our options… we might still be waiting in Chile for an answer”. 

Stephanie Wright suggests that a possible solution to the department’s lack of transparency is the introduction of detailed fact sheets or explicit directions for people to seek independent advice.

But this latter option can be expensive. Professional fees reach thousands of dollars depending on the type of application and its complexity. When added to the cost of application fees and other disbursements involved, migrating to Australia is a costly investment. The running application fee for a partner visa application has hit $7,160 (not including the credit surcharge) which must be made in one payment in order for it to be lodged successfully.

However, this is loose change when compared with the total cost of a Contributory Parent Visa, which costs a whopping $47,455.

It’s significantly less for skilled applicants though, with visas ranging anywhere between $2000 – $3000, depending on the type.

“The problem is that there are complex costs for people in different circumstances,” Mr Lombard said. “Most people want to know what it’s going to cost them today, and that’s impossible. One way to drive punters into the arms of immigration professionals is by there being a lack of information available.” 

It is difficult to find information to explain the application charges for specific visa subclasses. A higher fee could be related to the work involved in assessing each matter. But a higher fee does not necessarily get you a better experience.

One of the most expensive visa options, the contributory parent visa, carries an undefined processing time. And as of last month, the queue goes back to applications lodged in 2015. 

Parent and Aged Dependent Relative visas carry processing times between six and 30 years.

The waiting times are much less for partner visas – up to two years – while an application for permanent skilled migration, nominated by an employer, is around 14 months. 

Changes in 2017 saw the introduction of a new pathway for New Zealand citizens to obtain permanent residency in Australia. This means that a significant portion of the 44,000 skilled visas, capped annually, goes to applicants who are already onshore, reducing the chances of success for potential migrants, still offshore.

Mr Lombard suggests the possible creation of a dedicated migration portal for applicants, within the previous version of the Department of Home Affairs website.

– Gabriella Mancilla