It’s a well-worn saying but “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is certainly one that DIAC ought to be reflecting on right now.
On 1 July 2012 they made a huge raft of changes to a variety of areas of the migration program. The fallout from these sweeping changes has been a processing disaster.
The primary focus of all the changes was the General Skilled Migration (GSM) program. It was broken and it needed fixing and I’m sure the new Skill Select Expressions of Interest system will deliver exactly what DIAC wanted – no unmanageable pipeline of unprocessed applications and thousands of applicants wanting to know what on earth is happening to their application. The fact that in the process of the introduction of this new system they seem to have managed to still not fix the old Priority 5 processing problem seems, well daft. It would have been so easy to process those applicants and then open up the new system – but what would I know.
ENS & RSMS
The real disaster has been the Employer Sponsored Entry system (ENS & RSMS) which was “simplified” to less visas subclasses (186 & 187) and moved to a new online application system. This section was one of the models of DIAC processing efficiency prior to 1 July 2012 – they were doing a great job much like the highly successful 457 sections. The ENS 856 & RSMS 857 system was not broken. It was paper based, with a decision ready processing option and much loved and appreciated by agents, lawyers, businesses and visa applicants. It worked and the minor changes that have been introduced – and they are sensible changes – could have been amendments to the existing visa subclasses.
So DIAC fixed it creating first a huge surge in pre June 30 2012 applications that they could not deal with resulting in stacks of applications that got left sitting until a whole group of applicants became unlawful – a real legal mess. Next the new online system was a dud. I’m sure a hugely expensive dud for taxpayers. Why they did not use the successful 457 platform is anyone’s guess but the new off-shoot of the Skill Select system was a disaster. It did not validate applications and hence ensure Bridging Visas. Supporting documents were almost impossible to attach – it seems it like Firefox only. The platform would just stop working and you got to “begin again”. Lots of ‘Oh we are so sorry’ from DIAC but it took months to fix and I’m sure the fallout for many decision ready applications lodged in this period where documents were impossible to attach is only just about to start.
Another area of significant concern has been the collapse of the service standard for onshore Partner applications. Not long ago it was possible to get an appointment to lodge a Decision Ready onshore Partner 820 application and actually have the visa granted that day – basically on the spot. Now there are applications, and this is just my sample as of today that have not been allocated after 15 months. One day to 15 months is an impressive processing time blowout. Since then we have seen a series of frankly bizarre changes to accepting and processing applications. Post it / Put it in the Drop Box / No you can’t put it in the Drop Box / the reintroduction of appointments without rapid assessments / an informal decision ready process that seems to work most of the time but with much slower processing times. From one visit to the next at DIAC Sydney the rules of engagement change and this can be over a few days. There is no system in place to notify these changes and I must admit that I approach the counter queue at Sydney now wondering what, if anything will happen this time and I’m rarely disappointed.
Over the years I’ve seen the same systems introduced, withdrawn and reintroduced many times. Always with the explanation that it is more efficient or simpler; continuous crazy unheralded change is never more efficient and is the enemy of simplicity. Too many meetings to solve imagined problems methinks when just getting on with the job would be the best advice. To be fair there has been a surge in Partner applications and that is always difficult to cope with given limited resources. This surge is a by-product of all the other changes in the system as those who can no longer engage with GSM/ENS/RSMS opt to follow the relationship pathway as their option of last resort. Did anyone see this coming?
Every time I look at the DIAC management structure charts when they are periodically released I’m left wondering if there are not too many chiefs – it’s certainly not a model that could hope to survive in the world of business.
Just to finish I think the real award for making things amazingly bureaucratic and completely opposed to the stated aim of the government they serve goes to the NSW Department of Trade & Investment. They have introduced an assessment process to get NSW sponsorship approval for a temporary business investor (all long before anyone makes a DIAC visa application) that would even leave Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister / Prime Minister speechless. Clearly NSW is making every attempt to ensure that other States & Territories are the destination of new foreign business investors. My question is why? Has our Premier actually signed off on all of this?