Would you like fries with your visa? CPSU says privatised visa system will upsell

The public sector union claims to have seen platforms inviting visa applicants to purchase flights and SIM cards.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has said the two conglomerates in the running to build Australia's outsourced visa applicant processing system have shown a platform that attempts to upsell applicants.

"The platform, as presented to staff, would see products like Qantas flights and Optus SIM cards pushed at visa applicants," the union said in a blog post.

"Not only does this raise concerns about the Australian government seemingly endorsing these companies and their products, it also shows this push to privatise will reduce our visa system to nothing more than another way commercial interests can push their products and drive up their profits."

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection -- now part of the Department of Home Affairs -- went to tender in September, seeking a provider to design, implement, and operate a new visa business.

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, with the third-party vendor 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.

The union previously said the outsourced system was a data security risk.

"Based on previous ICT upgrades and outsourcing projects, it is unlikely to lead to savings and more likely to lead to reduced services and data security risks," the CPSU said in March.

"The planned privatisation poses a threat to national security, privacy, and your jobs."

On Friday, the union said its members have been shocked at the plan, and said previously it expected 2,500 jobs to be lost.

In recent times, Home Affairs has been pushing for increased use of biometric identification, with Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton saying the use of facial recognition at airports is close to becoming reality.

"For the numbers of people coming through our airports, I want them to walk seamlessly down -- off the A380 -- and, in time, and we're not far off this, with facial recognition on the move, people's passports will stay in their pocket," Dutton said.

"They will walk from the plane directly out to the curbside and depart the airport."

The super department will be responsible for the operation of a central hub of a facial recognition system that will link up identity matching systems between government agencies in Australia. In February, the department claimed the system's "hub-and-spoke" topology was helpful in preventing breaches, and further, the department had a cybermoat.

In April, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) backed automatic biometric verification of passport information.

DFAT said it presently responds manually to email requests from other departments to verify information. The emails contain a request form, and as a check, the department said it only accepts requests from government email domains.

If the requester asserts they have authority to send the request, and the desk-level DFAT staff member has to question to believe that assertion is incorrect, the request proceeds.

"The department does not have the specialist law enforcement expertise needed to assess the merits of the requests it receives, and does not seek information on this from other agencies," it said. "As such, its decisions about whether to disclose personal information to these agencies are, in a sense, mechanistic, based on whether requests satisfy simple business rules.

"If agencies satisfy those conditions, the department will in practice always approve their requests."

DFAT revealed that it does not have a system to track the process of requests, and therefore has no logs available to audit, nor to produce statistics from.

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