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Tuesday, 31 March 1998
Page: 2054

Mr Martin Ferguson asked the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, upon notice, on 2 March 1998:

(1) What changes has the Government made to the visa application process for (a) Filipino and (b) other foreign nationals since March 1996.

(2) What advice has the Government (a) sought and (b) provided on whether the changes in visa application process have been a cause for an increase in the number of onshore refugee applications.

(3) Has he or his office sought, or has his Department provided, a briefing on whether the increase in the arrivals of so-called `jumbo people' from Singapore is connected with Qantas having contracted out its ticket checking and boarding pass and passport matching processes in Singapore; if so what (a) concerns has his Department expressed and (b) action is he taking.

Mr Ruddock (Immigration and Multicultural Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) (a) The Government has not changed visa application processes for Filipinos since March 1996.

(b) A universal visa system for entry to Australia remains in place, as it was before that date, under which all foreign citizens seeking to enter or remain in Australia must meet the criteria for a visa as set out in the Migration Act and Regulations. However the processes used to issue visas continue to change and adapt to keep step with the growth in applications for visitor visas. For example, the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) was introduced in Singapore in September 1996 and has since been made available to a total of 26 low risk nationalities. The ETA is not available in countries where experience indicates a high risk of overstay.

Prior to the implementation of ETA arrangements were introduced for authorised travel agents to receive visitor visa applications. Details of these applications are forwarded by fax to the responsible DIMA post for approval by an authorised officer. The performance of agents participating in these arrangements is subject to close monitoring procedures. In many cases these agency arrangements have been superseded by the ETA.

(2) I have received advice from my Department on the operation of visa processes, and on the factors which affect applications for on-shore protection. As I announced on 25 June 1997 the Government has also introduced a number of measures to address the abuse of on-shore refugee application procedures. These include:

. limitations to work rights for people making protection visa applications

. introduction of a post-decision fee of $1,000 for unsuccessful Refugee Review Tribunal applications.

These measures will act as a disincentive for people who are trying to extend their stay in Australia or who have overstayed their visa and are simply abusing the system by making non bona fide applications.

(3) No.

By way of background, for this program year (i.e. as at 28 February 1998), 202 persons travelling by air from Singapore were refused entry at Australian airports. This compares with a total of 351 for the previous program year. These figures would indicate that the number of persons refused entry after arriving from Singapore for this program year may be less than for the corresponding period last year.

Checking of boarding passes and passport matching is undertaken on some flights to Australia by personnel of the Singapore Air Terminal Service. This has been the situation for some time. An officer of my Department is seconded to Qantas at Singapore airport to provide advice to Qantas and other airlines on the validity of documentation held by passengers wishing to board flights to Australia. This officer also provides training to airline staff regarding requirements for passengers travelling to Australia. My Department also monitors the arrival of inadmissible passengers at Australian airports and provides information to airlines alerting them to possible attempts to circumvent our entry requirements.