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Friday, 22 June 2012
Page: 4277


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) (14:53): I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge Bill 2012

The Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge Bill 2012 is the principal bill in a package of two bills which will enable the government to impose a charge for the production of visa evidence. The visa evidence charge is the first of a series of new visa related charges to be implemented under the Visa Pricing Transformation program. The Visa Pricing Transformation program restructures the way in which visas are priced.

The visa evidence charge will reduce the administrative burden on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship associated with processing hard copy visa evidence. The visa evidence charge will also allow for greater cost-recovery for these services and will generate additional revenue.

The Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge Bill 2012 imposes a charge in relation to requests for visa evidence and establishes a charge limit of $250 for a request made in the financial year ending on 30 June 2013. The Bill also provides a mechanism for this amount to be indexed in later financial years.

The Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012 is the second bill in this package and will make amendments to the Migration Act 1958 to implement the visa evidence charge.

Currently, Australia does not require visa holders to have hard copy evidence of their visa, however, clients are still provided with the option of being given evidence if it is necessary for them to have evidence to transit or exit another country, or if they make a personal decision to obtain such evidence. Visa holders will continue to have the option to request evidence of their visa, however, once the amendments in this package of bills commence, visa holders will be charged for this visa evidence, unless an exemption or waiver applies, or there are circumstances where the visa evidence charge is nil.

The key elements of the visa pricing transformation include a move to a 'user pays' model. The Visa Evidence Charge component of the Visa Pricing Transformation program will discourage reliance on visa labels by immigration clients and foreign officials and encourage the use of electronic systems for validating a non-citizens right to enter Australia.

Although most non-citizens are not required under Australian law to have a visa label as evidence of their visa status, many visa applicants apply to have a visa label issued at the time of grant or post-grant. Eliminating the perceived need for visa labels is a priority for the government as currently one third of visas granted each year are evidenced. In 2011, 455,000 Visa labels were issued onshore and 910,000 offshore totalling 1.365 million visa labels issued over calendar year 2011. Issuing visa labels is the highest volume service undertaken at immigration client service counters both in Australia and overseas. Imposing a service delivery charge as a pre-requisite to having a visa label, or other non-electronic evidence issued, is intended to compensate for the costs associated with delivering that service and encourage Immigration clients to travel without a visa label.

Changing client and stakeholder behavior to recognise the validity of electronic confirmation of a person's visa is the primary driving force behind the introduction of the Visa Evidence Charge. Visa Entitlements Verification Online (VEVO) or Advance Passenger Processing systems in the case of airlines and border agencies will reduce overheads for the department and reduce the risk of fraud. A number of business process based initiatives have been tried to reduce the use of hard copy visa labels in recent years, but in the absence of a price disincentive these have had limited success. As part of the Visa Pricing Transformation program, work will be undertaken to improve the online entitlements verification service and educate clients about the ease of travelling without a visa label.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship conducted detailed modelling which has confirmed that the new visa charges including a charge for visa evidence will have a minimal impact on the education, tourism and employment sectors and Immigration clients as visa demand has been shown to be unrelated to the cost of the visa or the cost of visa evidence.

To complement the modelling conducted by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sought views from Australia's overseas missions, as well as conducting assessments of how the proposed changes would be received by host governments. Feedback received from posts revealed that the price restructure would not compromise Australia's international competitiveness and rightly emphasised that foreign government reactions to the changes will need to be managed and pre-empted through high-level engagement in advance of introduction of the new pricing schedule. This engagement is currently underway.

In summary, this package of bills will enable the government to impose a charge for the production of visa evidence. The Visa Evidence Charge will encourage clients to reconsider their need to have a visa label. The department's modelling has confirmed that the visa evidence charge will have a minimal impact on the education, tourism and employment sectors and Immigration clients as visa demand has been shown to not be affected by these changes. These changes are a component of a larger strategy that will ultimately reduce the administrative burden non-electronic visa evidencing imposes on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and will eliminate the current financial burden visa labels impose on the Australian taxpayer.

Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012

The Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012 is the second bill in a package of two bills which will enable the government to impose a charge for the production of visa evidence. This new Visa Evidence Charge is the first of a series of new visa related charges to be implemented under the Visa Pricing Transformation program. The Visa Pricing Transformation program restructures the way in which visas are priced.

The visa evidence charge will be imposed by the principal bill, the Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge Bill 2012, which enables a charge to be payable for the production of prescribed evidence of a visa. The Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012 completes the package of amendments needed to implement the visa evidence charge.

This Bill amends the Migration Act to enable a visa holder to request to be given a prescribed form of evidence, and requires a person who makes a request for visa evidence to pay the visa evidence charge. If a visa holder makes a request to be given visa evidence and pays the visa evidence charge, the officer must give the visa holder this evidence.

The amount of the visa evidence charge will be prescribed in the Migration Regulations and will be subject to the maximum charge limit set out in the Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge Bill 2012. In appropriate circumstances, the visa evidence charge may be nil.

The Bill will also insert regulation making powers to allow regulations to be made to specify different amounts of visa evidence charge for different forms of visa evidence, different classes of visas, different methods of payment, where the person elects to have the request dealt with expeditiously and for requests made in different circumstances.

The regulations will also prescribe the circumstances in which the visa evidence charge may be waived, refunded or remitted, as well as specifying those persons who will be exempt from the charge.

Debate adjourned.