The forgotten visa: Skilled Regional Subclass 887 visa

Regional Australia’s skills shortages seem a low priority for Government.

The Skilled Regional Subclass 887 visa is a part of Australia’s skilled migration program. It was introduced in 2007 to provide a permanent visa pathway for applicants who have held a provisional skilled visa for two years or more, and demonstrated a commitment to living and working in regional Australia. In theory, this simplified the skilled migration pathway to permanent residency. In practice, the reality is far from it. The Department of Home Affairs are currently assessing applications submitted before September 2020, meaning that processing times extend to between 18 and 25 months. Under current Ministerial Directions, 887 visa applications are not classified as a high priority, despite regional Australia crying out for skilled labour.

Has the Subclass 887 become the forgotten visa?

#887applicantslivesmatter is the new slogan hitting mainstream media, backed by countless petitions and social media groups raising awareness of hardships resulting from extended processing times. Admittedly, COVID-19 did impact Departmental processing time frames and many things around the world did come to a complete standstill, however, there is no denying that the processing timeframes for the Subclass 887 visa were delayed long before COVID-19 arrived in Australia.

The Federal Government has made many statements about how important regional migration is for Australia and has introduced many incentives for migrants to settle in Australia’s outer regions. However in saying this, the Government fails to process the applications of the applicants who are already living and working in regional areas waiting for their permanent residency. What we need now is action!

The Department of Home Affairs has published their current processing times as being between 18 to 25 months and have advised that they are currently assessing applications submitted before September 2020.[1] However what the Department has failed to publish are the actual figures relating to the number of pending Subclass 887 visa applications and the number of Case Officers that are allocated for processing 887 visa applications. We know some of these figures due to a recent Freedom of Information request.

A Freedom of Information release showed that there are 16,467 pending Subclass 887 visa applications as of 12 March 2022.[2] Between March 2021 and February 2022, only 2,072 Subclass 887 visa applications were processed and granted. Based on this information, we can estimate that at this rate it will take approximately 7 years and 11.5 months for the Department to process and clear the backlog of pending Subclass 887 visa applications. This doesn’t take into account those that will be submitted in the meantime! How can the Department of Home Affairs justify processing times of over 8 years for applications lodged after February 2022?

The Department of Home Affairs has advised that it endeavors to finalise Subclass 887 visa applications within reasonable timeframes, subject to government priorities. We would like to know when will the lives of our skilled migrants living, supporting and working in regional communities become a priority? When will the employment needs of businesses in regional and rural Australia become a priority? Is the Department’s resource allocation so fundamentally flawed that it cannot processing (change to process) applications within a more timely manner?

In June 2021, we received a response from the Commonwealth Ombudsman after submitting a complaint about the processing timeframes for 887 visa applications. We asked if the Department could allocate more resources to process the pending applications. In response, we received the following information:

“The outcome of the investigation provided assurance that applications in the 887 visa program continue to be assessed and decided.  The Department allocates resources according to priorities, including the published Ministerial Directions for priority processing arrangements.  This means that the Department allocates resources according to the current Government priorities and directions. I note that under the current Ministerial Directions, 887 visa applications are currently not classified as a high priority.  It is open to the Department to make these decisions regarding resource allocation.”

The response we received advised that the Department provided assurance that Subclass 887 visa applications continue to be assessed and decided, however, if we look at the facts and figures, we can see that this cannot be taken for granted. As of April 2022, the published Ministerial Directions for priority processing arrangements do not include the Subclass 887 visa. In fact, the Subclass 887 visa falls under the category of ‘other skilled visa applications’, so it’s easy to hide the numbers. These applications are said to be assessed in order of date lodgment.[3] Based on the information before us, we can see that is not the case.

The impact of these delays, however, goes well beyond our frustration as a migration agent and those of regional businesses. Applicants who are onshore, living and working in regional Australia – some already for more than three years – are facing difficulties with employment as a result. These are the very people who came to Australia with the skills and experience regional communities needed! (change to need) Many cannot secure a job because they still hold a provisional visa. Many employers require their employees to be Australian permanent residents or citizens, disadvantaging both the applicant and the employer. The financial ramifications extend beyond employment, as they are required to pay international tuition fees for their children’s education. Despite meeting all of the criteria for the grant of the visa, many skilled migrants are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and to provide their children with an education – a basic right for other children in Australia. They do not receive any child care or Centrelink assistance and they can’t buy a house without paying extra fees. More importantly, we can’t forget the families who are separated waiting offshore for countless years for their visa to be granted.

This injustice has brought many applicants together, fighting to make a change. There are countless petitions on Change.org and before the Parliament of Australia, some with over 10,000 signatures. There have also been many complaints lodged, however, these actions have made little difference to the extended processing times.

All of the above factors were raised in our complaint to the Commonwealth Ombudsman and we received the following response:

“These concerns are ultimately out of the jurisdiction of this Office as they relate to broader decisions of government.  The wider visa framework and decisions made regarding COVID-19 support are not complaint issues that we can investigate or consider.”  

What we have struggled to understand for many years is why the Federal and State governments do not work together when it comes to immigration? If each government body across Australia took note of this and started working together on these matters (that affect Australia as a whole), rather than working in parallel to one another and seemingly turning a blind eye, we would not have a skills shortage and regional Australia would more readily be able to employ who they need. We need accountability to resolve this crisis. Who will take on this challenge?

On behalf of all applicants, we advocate to remedy further delays to processing of these visas with the Department of Home Affairs. This will, in turn, help to address Australia’s domestic skill gaps and meet our economic, demographic and labour market needs.

We will keep you informed.

[1] https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/skilled-regional-887

[2] https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/foi/files/2022/fa-220300786-document-released.PDF

[3] https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-processing-times/skilled-visa-processing-priorities

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