20/08/2008 - 22:00

Permanent-visa backlog developing

20/08/2008 - 22:00

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Reforms to the 457 visa scheme may have helped to alleviate the backlog of applications, but workers hoping to relocate permanently are facing longer waiting periods, according to data from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Reforms to the 457 visa scheme may have helped to alleviate the backlog of applications, but workers hoping to relocate permanently are facing longer waiting periods, according to data from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

The figures show processing times for 457 visas appear to have shrunk over the past year, with 1,400 primary visa applications lodged and waiting for approval in WA at June 30, compared with 2,600 at the same time in 2007.

This was despite a 41 per cent increase in the total number of 457 visa applications in WA, which rose from 8,350 to 11,800 during the same period.

However, processing times for permanent working visas appear to have blown out, including those within the employer nomination scheme (ENS), where skilled workers are sponsored by a company.

At the end of the last financial year, there were 596 ENS visas waiting to be processed in WA, compared with 352 the year before.

According to migration agents, the backlog has been a cause of frustration to many workers currently employed on 457 visas and waiting to convert to permanent residency status.

West Perth-based ISCAH Australian Migration Consultants director Steve O'Neil said prioritising the 457-visa stream had affected other classes.

"Most companies are desperate to get people on board immediately, so the 457 visa [takes precedence]. Most of the employer nominated stream - probably 80 to 90 per cent - will be onshore applicants who are already on 457 visas. If that takes a long time, it's not as pressing an issue for the department," Mr O'Neil said.

ISA Group solicitor and migration agent Chris De Sousa said ENS visas were taking an average of six to nine months to process, with some applicants waiting up to 12 months to receive permanent residency.

He said this prevented visa holders already living in WA from buying property, with some facing the prospect of paying international student fees for their children's university education.

Mr De Sousa said that, while DIAC had made an effort to expedite the 457 application process, the ENS stream was inconsistent at present.

"A lot of applications that were lodged in October or November last year are only being finalised now," he said.

"The Perth business centre is definitely being affected. WA has a lot more employers nominating applicants from overseas to be permanent residents [than other states]."

According to DIAC figures, WA has 20 per cent of the national pool (2,968) of primary ENS visa applications - equal to its share of 457 visas.

Nationally, WA has 22 per cent of the total pool of 457 visas, second to NSW, and was one of three states to receive a new visa processing centre in July this year.

The centres were announced following a review of the 457 visa system by an external committee appointed by the federal government.

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