Delayed by DIAC: Australian skilled visa processing times explained

In the Australian Visa Bureau Casework Department, we take responsibility for seeing our clients through the Australian visa application process. Essentially, this means that every year we help a large number of applicants and their families through to getting their Australian visas approved.

We try to ensure that our clients are as informed and prepared as possible throughout their application, but due to the nature of the migration process, there are some aspects which are beyond our control. For example, once we have lodged a visa application to the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), the case is essentially out of our hands until the visa has been granted. Unfortunately, in the last year or so, DIAC's processing times have become almost impossible to predict.

So why are there such variations between DIAC processing times? What prevents them from providing a concrete, consistent timeline? As with any large, bureaucratic organisation like DIAC, there are a number of reasons, many of which stem from last year's re-vamp of the General Skilled Migration (GSM) programme on September 1, 2007.

In the run-up to the GSM changes, there were a huge number of visa applications lodged by applicants keen to apply under the old migration programme, with DIAC reporting that August 2007 saw five times as many applications as usual. With so many applications lodged before the new changes came into effect, DIAC were already struggling to keep to their normal schedules by the time they changed to the new GSM system, which brought with it a number of changes to the processing methodology used by the department.

One of these was the introduction of widespread online processing. Before the GSM programme was over-hauled, the only visa that could be processed online was the now-defunct Skilled Independent Regional (SIR). However, following September 1, all GSM class visas can now be lodged through online processing.

While this might not seem like a cause for further delays, the new online processing brought with it a number of teething problems. While many of these initial difficulties have since been resolved, there is still no indication that online processing is any more efficient. For example, we have had applications lodged in April 2008 through manual processing that have already been granted, whereas applications lodged in January 2008 through online processing are still languishing in visa limbo.

Additionally, July 2008 also saw the opening of a new processing centre in Brisbane, to accompany the processing centre in Adelaide. Again, while we hope that it'll result in shorter processing times in the long term, we're still caught in the transition period and are yet to see any acceleration of processing times.

So, despite the attempts made to provide a faster, more efficient process for General Skilled Migration applications, the end result is that we've seen DIAC processing times balloon to be as much as three times as long as they were a year and a half ago. We currently give the average processing time for an Australian skilled visa as approximately 9 months, but this is only a rough estimate; depending on DIAC, it could be either longer or shorter.

While I'd be delighted if DIAC's process were formalised to the point that we could give our clients exact visa grant dates, that doesn't seem like it'll become a tangible reality in the short term. However, what I can do is ensure that clients are kept aware of the situation and know to use the time constructively so that whenever their visa is granted, they'll be ready.

- Lauren Mennie is the Casework Department Manager of the Australian Visa Bureau