Visa fee hikes ‘blatant cash grab’

The cost of most visas rose more than 75 per cent in the May 2013 budget but now prices are set to rise a further 15 per cent in September. The fee hikes were buried in the Treasurer’s economic statement made just prior to the up-coming election being called.

Visa prices are set to rise for the second time in three months after a 75 per cent increase for most visa categories in the May 2013 budget.

Hardest hit are people wanting to come to Australia on 457 visas. From September, a foreign skilled worker will have to pay $1,035 for their visa. Up until the end of June, the fee was just $455.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is not impressed by two fee hikes in three months. The group’s director of employment, education and training, Jenny Lambert says there’s no reasonable explanation for the rise.

“There is no correlation between processing costs and visa fees. It is a blatant revenue grab. The impact on business is going to be in a range of different areas: firstly it will add to the problems that had already been changed in relation to the 457 visa conditions by introducing labour market testing and the likes.”

The latest rise of 15 per cent applies to all categories of visa except for student and electronic tourist visas.

Prior to July 1, it cost a 457 visa applicant a 50 per cent surcharge to bring their partner and a 25 per cent surcharge for children under 18 years. From September, it will cost the same to bring a partner as to gain a 457 visa – $1035, three and a half times more than it did at the start of the year.

CEO of the Migration Council of Australia Carla Wilshire says there are long-term ramifications.

“One of the things we need to be concerned about is will that change the makeup and will that lead to a preference by employers for single workers? Ultimately that will have a longterm impact in terms of the nature of the program and who’s coming to Australia.”

Ms Wilshire says 457 visa holders make a considerable contribution to the nation, paying more than two-billion dollars in taxes over three years. She says she can’t see what they’re getting for their money.

“That’s a lot of tax revenue but not a lot of assistance. 457 visa holders, their spouses don’t have access to English language classes. 50 per cent will go on to settle permanently in Australia. One of the things we need to consider is what support we’re providing to make sure they integrate well into our community and our society.”

The issue of foreign skilled workers has been high on the political agenda this year with Labor passing legislation to ensure companies advertise for local workers before bringing people in on 457 visas.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has accused employers of rorting the scheme to give Australian jobs to foreign workers and to lower industry wages and standards. CFMEU construction division National Secretary Dave Noonan says the visa fee hike won’t do anything to stop abuse of 457 visas but it will help cover taxpayer costs.

“All that this proposal does is actually mean that the costs to the Australian taxpayer is actually paid for. What’s been happening previously is that Australian taxpayers have been subsidising employers who want to access 457 visas.”

Humanitarian visas will be largely exempt as they are almost all free.

Costs will rise, however, for visas under the Community Proposal Pilot which began in May and is essentially a private sponsorship program for up to 500 refugees. From September it would cost a sponsoring organisation almost $22,000 for a humanitarian visa, up from $19,000 just a few months ago.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul says it seems unreasonable fees are going up already.

“I think it creates a very, very unnecessary obstacle. This is meant to be part of the humanitarian program, it’s meant to be something which is going to provide a number of other spaces for people to come and raising these fees would seem simply to make it more difficult and it’s counter intuitive.”

The application fee of $30 for onshore protection visas will also rise, but the government would be hoping its offshore processing policies mean it won’t be collecting any of that extra revenue.

General skilled migration visas are also set to rise with the base charge increasing to more than $3,500 while onshore partner visas will rise to more than $4,500.

The highest cost continues to be for parents of Australian citizens wanting to come to Australia, who will soon have to pay almost $56,000 – up from around $42,000 earlier this year.

Migration Institute of Australia CEO Maureen Horder says Contributory Parent visas have long been too expensive. She says older migrants have plenty to offer the nation and the economy.

“Grandparents in many cultures have a critical role to play in supporting their children and their grandchildren so often they will be the ones who actually stay at home to mind the grandchildren while the parents who are out there working. That is a very direct contribution to our community and to our economy.”

Ms Horder says Australia’s visa fees are already much higher than those of other western countries and she fears the nation’s reputation is suffering because of Labor and Coalition government migration policies.

“Well we’re losing that lovely thing about being a fair nation, you know g’day mate, being welcoming when we keep doing horrible things to people and we have been as a nation through our busy migration programs and different policies.”

Courtesy of SBS Radio- Thea Cowie

Administrators note:

The cynical visa fee increase in the face of the up-coming election is, I agree, nothing more than a blatant cash grab. It is reflective of a government that appears to have come to view the migration program as a convenient whipping boy for political purposes and as a cash cow to assist it in balancing the book , seemingly ignoring the crucial role it has to play and the effect of its cavalier attitude to migrants coming to our great country.

We are too far down the road to still push the ‘ if they don’t like it don’t come’ argument. In fact in coming years, given the aging population and the poor performance by consecutive governments to stem the skill shortages by providing effective and industry-relevant training to skill the Australia work force, Australia will be in big trouble should intending migrants change their focus to more migrant-friendly countries.