Travel bodies want visa overhaul to keep recovery on track

Lucas Baird

Airports and tourism bodies are calling for a streamlining of the nation’s visa scheme to open Australia to more international tourist markets and keep the sectors’ recovery on pace.

Even as the processing backlog of nearly a million visas begins to shrink, the bodies argue in submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into the tourism and international education industries for a review of the system, more funding and a widening of the electronic travel authority visa to emerging markets.

Australian Airports Association boss James Goodwin called for an extension of the Electronic Travel Authority scheme to the “more constrained” Chinese and Indian markets. Rhett Wyman

Tourism Australia says there is even evidence to suggest “processing delays, refusals for individuals travelling as part of a group, or the costs and effort required to applying for an Australian visa cause high-value travellers to choose alternative destinations”.

“A traveller’s experience with the visa system has a significant impact on their overall experience of Australia,” it said. “The right visitor visa settings can open new markets and drive faster growth in existing segments.

“While many of the markets that Tourism Australia targets have access to Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) or an equivalent e-visitor visa, travellers from high potential markets such as India and Indonesia are required to apply for a visitor visa, which takes much longer, costs more, and may require the provision of biometric information.”

ETA visas allow tourists and business visitors from certain countries to stay in Australia for up to three months with no processing time, and applicants notified immediately if successful.

The Albanese government is conducting a review of Australia’s migration system. The terms of reference make clear that “temporary and permanent visa programs, and the processes and systems that support the administration of that framework” are in the firing line. The authors of the review will hand their interim findings to the government on February 28.

Australian Airports Association boss James Goodwin said an extension of the ETA scheme to the “more constrained” Chinese and Indian markets would help “reassert Australia’s role as a destination of choice”.

Simpler System

Mr Goodwin said the government should invest in digital visa technology such as identification and biometrics, and upgrade back-end IT processes to “mitigate risks associated with liberalised visa application and issuing”.

He also called for a simplification of the system that reduced requirements for documents and further opened up online application lodgement.

“The move to online visa applications could also present an opportunity to reduce processing costs, and in turn, visa fees for intending tourists, giving Australia some comparative advantage to other international markets Australia competes with for inbound tourists,” Mr Goodwin said.

Transport and Tourism Forum chief Margy Osmond said there must be “a complete and timely review” of the visa system.

“Current visa settings are inadequate, and we have a real opportunity at present for game-changing visa reform to prepare for the workforce requirements of the visitor economy of tomorrow,” she said.

Ms Osmond suggested the government engage with New Zealand and other Pacific nations on the possibility of joint visa offerings, which would “promote our status as a tourism hub within the Asia-Pacific”.

“Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific all have unique strengths in our respective tourism markets. We are also all long-haul destination,” she said.

“Our geographic location should be leveraged in a range of innovative ways, such as stop-over incentives, package offerings and streamlined travel movements.“