Australia's Department of Home Affairs has blamed its archaic core visa processing systems for the poor customer service that is provided to businesses and migration agents during the application process of trying to get skilled workers to Australia.
"We would like to be in a position to offer a much better level of service than our current legacy technology allows us to deliver," Andrew Kefferd, Department of Home Affairs Immigration and Services Group deputy secretary, admitted to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration on Friday.
"Essentially, our core visa processing systems are 25 to 30 years old, even moving to simple things like push messaging through SMS is far more complicated than it should be, and indeed would be with a more sophisticated, modern system."
The admission comes as the department fronted the committee, which continues its inquiry into Australia's skilled migration program, for the third time and was questioned about its customer service culture after receiving feedback about the system.
Some of that feedback, according to the committee, included employers being unable to pre-fill information on the existing system and therefore being required to fill in information for every new application, and employers and applicants being refused their application because they were unable to correct an error, which meant they were required to restart the application process again.
Last year, Canberra binned its visa privatisation project, in which it had spent just shy of AU$92 million on. While scrapping the visa processing system, the Australian government announced a new plan that would result in a Commonwealth-wide permissions capability that would focus initially on the simple visa type.
The Department of Home Affairs in October turned to the market to find a provider to help build the new permissions capability architecture. It allocated a further AU$75 million.
As stated in the tender documents, the government hoped to have the first work order for the capability ready by March 2021, with the permissions capability "live delivery" pencilled in for June. It also said the digital passenger declaration would be ready in the third quarter of 2021, and the simple visa capability ready in the fourth quarter.
"Sometimes you can expect things and your expectations change, don't they?" Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo said in response to being asked about the delays in delivery during Senate Estimates.
Kefferd said the updated visa system would help "both engage digitally and much more readily with applicants and sponsors and their agents".