Australia to increase outsourcing in visa approval process

Following the announcement the government was reforming the country's visa system in April, it is seeking an external IT services provider to design, implement, and operate Australia's visa business.

The Australian government has turned to the market for help with transforming the country's visa system, with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) seeking a provider to design, implement, and operate a new visa business.

According to the request for expression of interest (REOI) published at the weekend, the new visa business, labelled a matter of national security, will be outsourced to another party that will be charged with processing visa applications.

During the 2016-17 12-month period, 8.78 million visas were applied for, and the government expects this number to reach 13 million by 2026-27.

Bundle 1 of the visa program includes a major IT component, the REOI explains, with respondents required to offer up a Global Digital Platform (GDP) that is a "world-class digital platform".

The GDP and supporting systems are expected to "drive the end-to-end processing and workflow of the visa and citizenship business", which includes lodgement, assessment, and rule-based decision-making on visa applications.

Currently, only 20 percent of the country's visa service is outsourced, and during his election campaign last year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned against outsourcing too many government services.

The global visa business services is a multi-lingual user base and requires 24/7 system support and live data feeds to inform global traveller clearance in real-time, the REOI said.

It also said that given the "significant volume" of data generated during its process, it requires the solutions provider to adhere to the Australian Privacy Act 1988, including the Australian Privacy Principles set out in that Act.

There are two different types of visas: Temporary entry visas, which are the most used, and migration visas, which tend to require more complex assessment.

The department expects 6,000 of its staff to work on the reformed system, with two-thirds based in Australia. The transformed visa process will sit under the watch of the new Home Affairs ministry, which from July 2018 will be responsible for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australian Federal Police, Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Austrac, and the office of transport security.

Under the new visa system, the government expects to still be responsible for performing sovereign functions, including policy, visa decision-making, and security checks.

During 2016-17, Australia granted over 8.5 million temporary visas and processed over 40 million international air and sea travellers.

Turnbull announced in April he was abolishing the existing Temporary Work (Skilled) 457 visa and would be replacing it with a new Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa in March 2018.

The TSS visa program will comprise of two visa classes, short-term and medium-term, which will cover a foreign worker for two and four years respectively, with the latter reserved for more "critical" skills shortages. Additionally, applicants will be subjected to tightened English language and work experience tests, and must possess a clean criminal history. Applicants must also be under the age of 45.

Under the new visa scheme, 200 job categories have been reduced, impacting a handful of technology-related employment opportunities, including electronic engineering technicians, ICT support and test engineers, ICT support technicians, web developers, telecommunications cable jointers, and telecommunications technicians.

The REOI notes that during 2016-17, 102,495 457 visas were applied for. It also notes the government is exploring the possibility of streamlining the current visa system and reducing the number of visas from 99 to around 10 in a bid to "improve processing efficiency and the client experience".

In July, the DIBP announced a AU$22.5 million, three-year contract with Portugal-based Vision-Box that would initially see 105 new smartgates rolled out at Australian airports to enable passengers to be processed using facial recognition.

"The idea of this will be through new technology that is using facial recognition that in some cases if you've got a passport that can be read you won't even have to present the passport," Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said at the time. "It will make it much quicker going through the immigration process."

The department similarly published a request for tender for the provision of automated processing at Australian ports. This followed a request for an Automated Border Control solution that would eliminate the need for physical tickets and have the ability to process travellers using contactless technology.

Responses to the visa system REOI close Friday, October 27, 2017.

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