Visa queues swell as Peter Dutton's migration cuts bite
Families are set to wait longer to bring in husbands and wives from overseas as the Turnbull government presides over a growing queue for permanent migration, in another sign of its tougher line on population growth.
Employers are also feeling the impact of a cut to the migration program amid business warnings that both major parties are "playing with fire" by shutting out workers who contribute to the economy.
Applications for family visas, including spouses who have married Australians, fell to 125,000 in the year to June but only 47,000 were granted, leaving tens of thousands waiting for a decision.
Applications for skilled worker visas fell to 145,000 during the year but only 111,000 were granted, highlighting the number of employers who could be missing out on workers they want from overseas.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has overseen a cut to the permanent intake from 183,608 last year to 162,417 in the year to June 30, trimming both skilled and family visas.
"I want to make sure we scrutinise each application so we're getting the best possible migrants," Mr Dutton said last week.
Fairfax Media sought figures on the number of applications lodged during the past year and was told the number of family stream applications fell 12.6 percent while the skilled applications fell 17.7 percent.
Total refusals increased 46 per cent and total withdrawals increased 17 percent as a result of the "increased focus on integrity" but the total number of finalisations was similar, the government said.
The numbers reveal the hidden side of the government's tougher line on permanent residency, with many applicants waiting within Australia on other visas while they seek a decision on permanency.
Both major parties are now hardening their language about foreign workers, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accusing the government of doing nothing about 1.6 million people from overseas who have work rights in Australia.
"This government does not want to talk about the growing problem of people coming to Australia with temporary work right visas and they're doing nothing about that," he said.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said businesses and jobs were at risk from the "starving of skills" from visa changes.
"They are stoking the unfounded fears of some in the community who are being told that skilled migrants take jobs off Australians," Mr Pearson said.
Australians have a right to gain a visa for a spouse but are often expected to wait more than a year, with Home Affairs saying 75 per cent of applications are processed within 23 months and 90 per cent are processed within 32 months.
Migration Council chief Carla Wilshire said the cuts to the permanent program could create a backlog and extend waiting times for family and employer sponsorship, creating uncertainty and insecurity.
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