The Australian government will invest AU$36.1 million in visa processing to help clear a colossal backlog of applications which is compounding the country’s critical labour shortage.

An additional 500 people will be hired for the next nine months to tackle the backlog allowing more international travellers and workers to enter Australia.

Speaking at the government’s Jobs and Skills Summit on Friday, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles, said this area of administration has been neglected for too long.

“There were almost a million visas waiting for this government after the election. Today, that number is around 900,000,” Giles said.

An additional 180 staff were assigned to visa processing following the election, and currently 190 staff are being on-boarded, and up to 200 staff are working regular overtime, the Minister explained.  

Wait times for skilled visas, student visas and working holiday visas have all reduced since the introduction of more staff, with the latter now finalised in less than a day.

“The backlog will be cleared,” Giles said. “Waiting times will continue to come down … This is the beginning, not the end.”

Industry association including Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA) have been very vocal about concerns around visa processing delays and the resulting impact on businesses.

“This is really positive news. It’s great to see the government acknowledging the problem,” TAA CEO Michael Johnson told HM exclusively.

TAA engaged with federal government ministers ahead of the summit on issues of concern to the industry including the importance of increasing opportunities to employ mature aged Australians and supporting business to engage more apprentices.

“We’re looking for the government to continue apprenticeship subsidies – that’s quite critical, and it has been successful,” Johnson told HM.

“We want to ensure that those subsidies continue for the employer, but also for the employees. It’s one thing to increase commencements but it’s also critical that completions are achieved. At the moment, completions for apprenticeships are only running at 47%, so the more incentive for them to finish their apprenticeship the better.”

Johnson said the accommodation industry could benefit greatly from the experience of mature age workers and is hopefully that government will remove restrictions that prevent them from joining the workforce.

“We’ve got this massive workforce that have been prepared to work if those disincentives – i.e. the caps on how much money you can make as a pensioner – are taken off,” he said.