‘We feel totally ignored’: Permanent visa applicants protest over dramatic increase in wait times

Brijesh Batra has been waiting more than 14 months for the Australian government to process his application for a permanent residency visa.
The Victorian-based technical engineer, originally from India, applied for an 887 Regional Skilled visa in July 2021 after living and working in a specified regional area for two years.
But Mr Batra, 43, said he has not heard anything back and is growing frustrated at the lack of communication and uncertainty.
“Every decision we make in our daily life is based on when we are getting permanent residency,” the father-of-one said.

“I won’t even buy a small piece of furniture because I don’t know when I might have to pack my bags.”

The campaigners were calling for 887 visa holders to be prioritised.

Mr Batra said he feels “totally ignored” by the federal government, which last month announced the Department of Home Affairs would prioritise the processing of offshore temporary skilled, student and visitor visas to help address nationwide worker shortages.

“It hurts when we see other visas [some 189 skilled independent visas] cleared in 15 days, whereas I’m waiting for almost 15 months already,” he said.
According to the department’s website, the processing time for 887 visas is 24 months and it is assessing applications made before 2020.
Mr Batra is one of several organisers of a series of protests held in Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and Brisbane on Friday.

Hundreds of migrants gathered at the rallies in each city to call upon the government to prioritise their 887 visa applications.

The protests coincide with the release of a new report by The Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) which reveals the number of migrants on bridging visas has increased from 60,795 in 2014 to 333,357 in 2022.
It also found wait times for the 887 skilled regional visa had more than doubled since mid-2018 when it took 10 months to process.
“Over the last decade, we’ve seen a visa system that has prioritised temporary forms of migration and those that have found the very narrow pathway to permanency have been kept in limbo for two, sometimes three years,” said Migrant Workers Centre CEO Matt Kunkel.
He said 887 visa applicants were not being recognised for making “extraordinary contributions to our regional communities.”

“There’s very little argument that the department could put forward to say that these are difficult visas to approve. People applying for permanent residency have already been through security vetting, already tested their skills and their suitability for migration to Australia.”

The MWC report also warns that delays in visa processing for migrant workers could lead to a rise in labour exploitation and wage theft.
“Temporary visas are designed to give power to employers over migrant workers, who consequently suffer from an extreme level of stress and frequent workplace injuries,” the report said.

It urges the government to adopt several key recommendations to resolve the excessive processing delays and better protect migrant workers’ workplace rights, including the establishment of a clear pathway to permanent residency for all temporary visa programs and the removal of work restrictions for some bridging visa holders.

Immigration, citizenship, and multicultural affairs minister Andrew Giles announced the number of permanent migration visas available in 2022-23 would increase from 160,000 to 195,000 places following the Job Skills Summit earlier this month.
The government will also provide an additional $36.1 million for visa processing to support a surge capacity of 500 staff over the next nine months.

“The Albanese Government is committed to re-establishing immigration as a nation-building function of Government, in order to realise our full potential as a reconciled nation that harnesses its diversity,” Mr Giles said at the time.

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