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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Australia's overseas representation

VARDOS, Mr Peter, Deputy Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship

WILLIAMS, Mr Jim, Assistant Secretary, Offshore Biometrics and Operations Branch, Department of Immigration and Citizenship

PARKER, Ms Vicki, First Assistant Secretary, Border Security, Refugee and International Division, Department of Immigration and Citizenship


CHAIR: On behalf of the committee I welcome Mr Williams, Mr Vardos and Ms Parker. You have before you a document which provides some procedural advice to witnesses. I will pause to allow you to familiarise yourself with the information. Before proceeding to questions, would you like to make a short opening statement?

Mr Vardos : We do not have a formal statement. We think that we have covered all of the issues that are of interest to us in our submission. I would like to add one thing to our submission. In explaining our overseas representation we noted in our submission that we have a liaison function with the UN and other organisations, but from the body of the submission we omitted to note that we have an SES officer posted to Geneva for that purpose at the SES Band 1 level who is designated locally as Minister Counsellor. The work that person does is recorded in the submission under the heading ‘International Engagement’.

CHAIR: I have one question about the consular services you have to provide in the event of crisis and so on. Is that an escalating demand on the department?

Mr Vardos : Consular services are, of course, a core responsibility for our colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; however, when an incident happens overseas, a civil disturbance or national disaster, it is all hands on deck at the post. All three of us have had overseas postings over the years so we all contribute. If there are evacuations required then we have a critical role in determining if people have the right of entry into Australia and if they do not, what measures we put in place to facilitate their travel if it is necessary. There is also an onshore dimension for people who are unable to go back to their country of origin because of the incident or disaster whose visa might be expiring. We take measures to make sure that they remain onshore lawfully until the issue has passed.

CHAIR: Has that been an escalating demand?

Mr Vardos : It has been busy over the last couple of years with tsunamis, civil disturbances with the Arab spring and so on. All of those events impact on us in the flow of people both ways, but more particularly for people onshore who are unable to go back in the short term and we have to make arrangements. The short answer is that it is the circumstances, but certainly over the last two to three years there has been a lot of work in that area.

CHAIR: Dr Stone.

Dr STONE: I note that you tell us the top source countries for migration. China is the top source and then you have the UK, India, the Philippines and South Africa. We have already heard evidence that we are thinnest on the ground, in terms of diplomatic posts and the numbers of staff, with China in particular. How does that impact on DIAC’s service delivery, the fact that we do not have significant enough or sufficient personnel on the ground in countries like China?

Mr Vardos : We certainly have large numbers of people at the three China posts—Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. In fact, without doing a mental tally, I would suggest that if you aggregate all three posts, it is probably our largest number both A based and LE, although India has a very big LE cohort of over 100. The caseload is growing, but so far we are generally meeting service standards.

Dr STONE: So you do not have a problem with DIAC’s footprint in west China, for example?

Mr Vardos : I would need to take on notice whether we have a specific issue with western China, but my overview of the issue is that we are handling the China caseload within acceptable timeframes. We are a flexible organisation in being able to move our people around as demand requires it.

Mr Williams : I can add that we do not always find it necessary to be immediately located where our clients live. China is a big country. We have three processing centres there. We manage the whole of the country and the caseload through those three centres. Whilst a lot of people live close to our offices, there is a lot that do not, and we have sort of become accustomed to working in that way so that we can process remotely. We also have a network of agents around the country who are accredited under the ADS scheme for tourism, so that expands our footprint for collecting applications.

Dr STONE: What is your proportion of locally engaged staff in DIAC compared to Australian citizens who are either engaged locally or brought out from Australia to man those bases?

Mr Vardos : We have a number of expatriates LE, as opposed to nationals of a particular country, in many posts. Having read this again this morning before we came over, the number is not there, but we could find it for you. I would have to say that my impression is that globally the number of expatriates, Australians and others, who work as locally engaged staff would be in the minority. It is not a vast number. I was in Hanoi recently and at least three of the LE in that office are either Australian or other expatriate LEs.

Dr STONE: There is a lot of potential in the work that you do for an ethnic minority or a racial minority to be put to the back of the queue by those working in the offices who do not share Australia’s philosophy of equal opportunity and access. I have a lot of complaints from my constituents that because they are Shia and not Sunni, and the locally engaged staff are not of the same religious persuasion, they are at the back of the queue or, indeed, even bribes are asked for. It is not just the Middle East countries, but also in parts of Eastern Europe, in particular. Can you comment on that? Are you worried about those accusations and allegations? Have you found them, in fact, to be borne out?

Mr Vardos : That is an issue that comes up on a regular basis. We have been fielding those allegations for years. We investigate every single one of them. At the end of the day it is the A based officers that carry the responsibility for the quality of decision making at the posts. Mr Williams may care to comment, having been regional director for the Americas region most recently—in fact, under Dennis Richardson as ambassador in Washington. So, yes, they do come up and we do investigate them. It would be fair to say that there are occasions where there is substance to the allegations, but they are by far the minority. I would have to say as a subjective comment that people, when they get no for an answer, can often look for reasons other than the objective analysis of their application for that refusal. In short, yes, those allegations surface from time to time. We investigate them and on rare occasions we have found some substance, but it is not common.

Dr STONE: The only way to overcome that would perhaps be Australian staff in those countries who do not have those ethnic or racial persuasions. Is that what you sometimes look at when there are allegations of problems?

Mr Vardos : There have been suggestions over the years that we should convert all of our LE into A based positions. That is impossible.

Dr STONE: Is that because of financial constraints?

Mr Vardos : It would be a horrific cost to convert over 1,000 positions into A based staff. Firstly, you could not find the staff and, secondly, the cost structure of supporting 1,000 additional A based staff would run into the hundreds of millions.

We do not purposely go out to look for expatriates, but we will at every opportunity. When an appropriately qualified person comes along we will recruit expatriates. Indeed, DIAC staff take leave without pay to go overseas to work as LEs for the experience and we encourage them to do that as a way of broadening their skill set. There are some positions—and I will defer to Mr Williams here—that we may prefer to have someone where we can do comprehensive bona fides checks—security and integrity checks—to put them in certain positions, but again, they are in the minority. Were we to dispense with our locally engaged staff we would be losing a very critical resource, one that understands the locals environment. The language capability that we have around the world is to a large extent based on our locally engaged staff, so we would lose something if we were to shed our locally engaged staff, even if we did have the capability of replacing them with expatriates or A based. Mr Williams, your turn.

Mr Williams : I would add that the deputy secretary mentioned that the quality and outcomes of any office are the responsibility of the Australian based staff at the post. It is their responsibility to ensure that there are systems in place to make sure that those sorts of things do not happen, or if they do happen, they are investigated quickly and resolved. We train people to do proper caseload analysis. There is a fairly highly engineered process around queuing in cases where queuing applies. That sometimes might give a perception that a person’s case has been dealt with more slowly than others. There ought to be systems in place to ensure that those sorts of things do not happen.

Mr Vardos : I would add that we run two overseas migration officers conferences a year. We have global regions that we divide the world into. We split the group into two and have two conferences a year. I chair them as head of the client services group. A lot of the agenda is focused on operational integrity issues. The latest initiatives coming out of Canberra are of the challenges being faced by people at post and how we can better support them. It is an ongoing process. It is not reactive to individual circumstances, but as you well know, the issue of integrity in the migration program is something that challenges us on a daily basis, so we have a rolling program of ensuring that our staff are well equipped to deal with these issues.

Dr STONE: Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr Ferguson.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: Yourselves and DFAT were asked the question about locally engaged staff and DFAT’s response was ‘we are just merit based’. I appreciate what you are saying that final decisions are made by Australian officers, but do you have any consideration of the kind of nuances that can exist at posts? I am not trying to pick this one as an example, but you would not be smart to have three Armenian officers in Ankara. That could be the outcome because of educational accomplishment and so on. Do you take that into consideration, despite all your protections against bias and perceptions of such, which I agree are mostly ridiculous when you come to the end of it? Do you do anything about trying to get a balance in these staff?

Mr Vardos : That is a difficult one to answer. I would say that we would follow the same line as our DFAT colleagues. We select the best people available to do the job, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or other affiliations, but certainly, we are aware of the nuances that exist in the countries in which we operate. I can quote an example. When I had an AusAID posting to Africa I was told on arrival, in terms of maintaining the balance, that you would have people from three different tribes if you had to have three staff, rather than having them from the one area. That was an internal check and balance. That is local knowledge and local practice. At the level that we operate it is merit based. It is the best person available for the job and it is the responsibility of the A based officers at the post to monitor the quality and the efficiency of their staff. Certainly, we are aware of the nuances, the ethnic rivalries and the other issues that come into play.

Mr Williams : I can add that sometimes the criteria for the job would define that certain people would not qualify and, having run our visa office in Ankara, I can tell you that we did look for a balance.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: I am not offering any allegations.

Mr Williams : No, but the way we did it is that we effectively constructed the jobs and the duties that the jobs need to perform in such a way that you get a reasonable balance. It is to the benefit of the office that you get some people with those skills and understanding of that particular ethnic group, but you do not have an overwhelming number. You do that through the way you construct the design of the jobs.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: Knowledge in this place, let alone in Australian society, is pretty low on this matter. How active are you in overcoming some of the perceptions of bias, with a belief that I have lost out in my visa application because I am this or that? Are you upfront and not backing away from the risk factor in the way you act in these posts? Are we very clear about why we reject a lot of people from a particular country?

Mr Vardos : I would have to say that in terms of the decision record and explanation to people as to why they have not made the mark, yes we do provide answers, which are often not accepted, but there are appeal mechanisms. We accept the fact that if someone feels that they have been discriminated against they have access to a range of bodies that they can appeal to. We can be pursued for defective administration, bias, failure of our duty of care, et cetera, and people do pursue those avenues of appeal.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: You would say that we are accurate and honest enough, that people do understand that there are too many overstayers from this country, there are too many overstayers from this group and that is why they are being rejected. Do we pursue that?

Mr Vardos : I would say that we are always honest. I would say that we are accurate in 99.99 per cent of the time, but we do make errors. In terms of overstayers, of course we have a sense of which countries have the greatest proportion of overstayers relative to the number of visitors from that country, so we would say that if you are—

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: It is published data.

Mr Vardos : It is published. For certain countries that have a very high proportion of overstayers, the risk profile is greater. Therefore, the ruler we would put over applications from that country would be harsher than from countries that would have a very high return rate and honour the obligations that they have under the visa that has been granted. In terms of the explanation, I think one of the challenges we have is that the letters that we send can often be very difficult to interpret because we are bound to a legislative framework. We cannot use shorthand to explain. Ms Parker, as a lawyer, might care to respond to that issue. We have to be very careful how we explain the decision within the legal and regulation framework that we operate and sometimes that is hard to understand, but we do have a correspondence improvement program underway.


CHAIR: Mr Ruddock.

Mr RUDDOCK: I observed, and I am sure all my colleagues probably saw it too, an answer to a question on notice published yesterday in Hansard.

CHAIR: Was it the minister for immigration?

Mr RUDDOCK: Yes. It included the timeframes for processing visas at offshore posts. I thought to myself that if I was looking at where your service delivery may be challenged it is where you have very long timeframes to process applications, and some of them went well over 12 months. It is quite different depending upon the posts. We have a lot of information here, but none of that information is included. You would not have heard the comments I made to Mr Richardson a moment ago, but the reason for this inquiry is that we are asked when we undertake reviews—and we did one in Africa—to make recommendations for new posts in particular places and I am saying that I am not prepared to support those sorts of recommendations. I think there ought to be an objective way of determining workloads and where people should be placed. I have nothing in this submission that would help me in understanding where your new and emerging priorities might be if we were making recommendations, taking into account DIAC’s needs, and I would like you to perhaps consider a further submission that might look at those workloads and where additional resources might help, and to take into account some other things. I noticed that you detailed where you closed offices. Are you thinking of reopening any in Europe because of the European financial crisis?

Mr Vardos : No, we are not thinking of opening a post in Europe.

Mr RUDDOCK: I thought you might need a new one in Dublin, Rome or Athens. Athens is still there, I take it.

Mr Vardos : No, not A based. We are running skills expos. In fact, one of our colleagues is about to depart to Europe and North America to run skills expos where people register and find out about skilled migration to Australia. That drums up the business, as it were, given the opportunities that exist here in Australia. Ireland, Western Europe and North America are sources both for permanent migration, but more importantly in these days, 457 temporary skill migration.

I was going to offer a supplementary submission to address the specific issue you raised in your opening comments.

Mr Williams : I would like to add something around the different tasks that we perform overseas and some changes around the way we are able to deliver them. I am not telling you anything I am sure you do not know, but we have a task around collecting applications from applicants and we need a good distribution network for that. We then have a task around assessing and deciding those applications. We are moving more and more to an online model where people can make online applications, which helps us with our distribution problem. The other thing that we are working on quite vigorously is expanding our service delivery provider partnerships with commercial entities around the world where they are able to collect the applications, do the data entry and provide the applications to us electronically so that we can expand our footprint.

Mr Vardos : In a cost-effective way.

Mr Williams : That is right.

Dr STONE: So it produces more potential for corruption, as you are aware, through our overseas student program.

Mr Williams : It should not do that. There is always potential for corruption, but there are some measures that we are able to take. Firstly, it is a commercial contract so we have commercial standards around contract performance that we are able to enforce. Secondly, the type of work that the providers are doing is the immediate client interface and the collection of data. It is a pretty short part of the process. The timeframes ought to be quite quick and they do not have any further action on that case once they pass it to us, which ought to be a matter of hours, if not a day or so, in most cases. The burden of processing and prioritisation then falls back on, as it always has, DIAC and its back-end operations.

I guess the point is that we are then able to put more effort into the high-value-add work around the actual analysis and assessment of the application, which does not necessarily have to be in exactly the same sort of place that the applicants are, although if we need to investigate, having a network overseas which allows us to make inquiries where necessary and having a relationship with host government agencies is essential to be able to manage the integrity of the program.

We are carving up the business a little bit, taking the different components of it and trying to work out a cost effective way of delivering each part of it.

Mr Vardos : I can add a supplementary comment to your questions, Mr Ruddock. We would not take the initiative, for example, of open posts. If DFAT was to expand their footprint and went into a location where it was in our interest to post an A based officer, then we would consider doing so.

Mr RUDDOCK: My view is that immigration is a very important function and that there are areas in which trade will be the major function in the national interest that we should be pursuing. There will be other areas in which immigration is a major function that we ought to be pursuing in the national interest, and it may be the only reason that we need to open a post.

Mr Vardos : I can give you the example of Dubai. DFAT is largely located in Abu Dhabi.

Mr RUDDOCK: I know the situation there.

Mr Vardos : The majority of staff in Dubai are immigration and a couple of Austrade. In that situation we did not open the post in Dubai, but it is the immigration function that is the biggest function at that particular post.

Mr RUDDOCK: We have in mind some specific matters and Mr Danby is going to pursue them, but there are other factors where immigration becomes one of the major driving matters that you would want to pursue. We cannot make recommendations to the government where the priorities ought to be if we are not appraised of where your demand might be.

CHAIR: I am conscious of time.

Mr Vardos : We will provide some supplementary information.

CHAIR: That would be terrific. Senator Moore.

Senator MOORE: Mr Williams has just given us some information about the SDP process and I am really interested in how that is going to work. Do you have any data about the percentage of claims that you have been getting through that process and other processes to compare the way people are making their applications?

Mr Williams : Yes. We can provide assistance on the applications received.

Senator MOORE: Also, the fact that you have given us a paragraph saying that you have moved into a very clear online drive to get people to apply. I am very interested to see the way people’s patterns of application vary. I know from a couple of places that we have been lucky enough to visit, one of the key issues has been the fact that the decision making is not on site, that they actually collect the data and do the interview. I can use Tonga as an example, as you well know. You do all of that information locally, but then I believe it was sent to Suva. I do not know whether it still is.

Mr Williams : That is correct.

Senator MOORE: That is a very sensitive issue for the Tongans. They do not like it. They do not think it is fair and they are particularly worried about it going to Suva.

Mr RUDDOCK: Samoa, too.

Senator MOORE: Yes. The way it operates was very much a point raised at Tonga. How is that explained? I know that people feel as though having face-to-face contact with the decision maker is a more effective way of getting understanding and allowing for clearly the point that you have made that if you get an answer that you do not like, sometimes you do not like hearing the answer, but just in terms of effective decision making. I have read this and note it happens a lot where you have collection and then transport. There is also the issue of delay when things are going to that area and a delay in the decision process. I am happy to put that on notice.

Mr Williams : I will just give a little bit of information about some developments that we have introduced there. Again, we have recently contracted with a service delivery partner for all of our operations in the Pacific and, if not already, we are about to open up a—

Senator MOORE: In your submission you stated that in 2011-12 DIAC is working towards expanding SDP Africa, South Asia and South Pacific. Have you concluded South Pacific?

Mr Williams : We are about halfway through. I think we are opening up in 14 sites, including two new ones, Lae and Lautoka.

Mr Vardos : Lae is open.

Mr Williams : People can come into a local shopfront to make the application. It is still only the application collection. It is quite specifically that, because it is a commercial provider doing it, so they are not able to have any influence over the application decision.

Senator MOORE: Will you be able to provide us with the names of people who are taking on that role?

Mr Williams : The companies concerned?

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Mr Williams : They are contracted to employ staff to do the collection. Once the applications are collected we are able to transfer them electronically to Suva, so we cut out a little bit of the time delay that you mentioned.

Mr Vardos : I would have to add, though, that it is a function of the budget environment that not just today or yesterday but for a long period of time we have increased efficiencies year after year. We have to find different ways, more cost-efficient ways, of doing our business in an environment where the business volume is growing. Using third parties is one of the avenues. Increased use of electronic channels is one of the avenues. We have to do this if we are to keep on top of the workload, with an inability to simply put people wherever the workload is.

CHAIR: Ms Parke.

Senator McEWEN: I have one question to follow on.


Senator McEWEN: Do the SDPs that you are using in the South Pacific deal with the Pacific Seasonal Worker program applicants?

Mr Williams : I believe they take the applications, but I would need to check that.

Mr Vardos : That would only be a recent initiative, if that is the case.

Senator McEWEN: I am curious as to whether that program has meant that you need to increase your presence either directly or through an external service provider.

Mr Williams : It has not resulted in us needing to increase the presence, because the numbers are still manageable. I do not know whether the applications are lodged through the service provider. I know there are some extra requirements around host government endorsement of those. It may be through another channel, but I will need to check.

Mr Vardos : You have caught us on the hop with that one. It does not directly fall in our patch and we did not prepare for it, but we can get the information.

Senator McEWEN: Thank you.

CHAIR: Ms Parke.

Ms PARKE: I note in your submission that you refer to the fact that DIAC participates in whole-of-government efforts to combat people smuggling, people trafficking, terrorism, et cetera. I am interested in the potential interactions that departmental officials overseas, including locally engaged staff, might have with international organised crime and perhaps infiltration, and what processes are in place to address corruption risks overseas. And obviously then also with respect to issuing visas as well.

Mr Vardos : When you are talking about interactions with organised crime, do you mean being influenced by criminals or how we combat criminal activity?

Ms PARKE: You state in the submission that you are involved in those operations. I am not sure whether that is just at a policy level or operational level.

Mr Vardos : It happens at multiple levels. We engage at the policy level with like organisations, both domestically and offshore. We are posting an increasing number of integrity officers. The role of these officers is not to process visas but in the soft use of the words ‘intelligence gathering’ in terms of what is happening with fraud against the migration program, whether it is people trafficking, organised visa scams or the whole gamut of issues that we have to face. It can be done locally, bilaterally, with local law enforcement authorities, in conjunction with posted officers at the AFP, and so on. In terms of the engagement process, Ms Parker may have more to add.

Ms Parker : In terms of the general level of whole-of-government engagement overseas, it is very much working with other agencies. As Mr Vardos mentioned, we have Principal Migration Officer (Integrity) positions in 17 locations. These people are not actually doing visa processing. We have Principal Migration Officer (Liaison) in four locations, Senior Migration Officer (Integrity) in seven locations, border management in five, and a Principal Migration Officer in Afghanistan. A lot of the work they are doing is pursuing and promoting Australia’s national interest, which from the perspective of immigration is promoting regular migration and trying to deal with people smuggling and irregular migration, and also looking at strengthening protection for asylum seekers and refugees. There is a number of people doing that work. Some of the integrity officers would work probably not directly but with the AFP. It is more the AFP—and perhaps others could add to that—that have the direct engagement with other enforcement agencies in other countries. They have group whole-of-government liaison and meetings.

Ms PARKE: Is there an anticorruption program within your department?

Mr Vardos : There is not an anticorruption program as such. We have a values and conduct monitoring framework for the behaviour of our staff, both locally engaged and A based, that they have to fit within. The information can come to our attention from a number of sources, such as dob-ins or through our own audits finding irregularities. The short answer to your question is that we monitor the integrity aspect of what we do, but is there an anticorruption campaign as such? No. It is just part of our regular business as usual to monitor the quality of the work that we do and how it is done by both A based and LE.

Ms PARKE: You would be sensitive to the possibility of infiltration by organised crime?

Mr Vardos : Yes.

Ms PARKE: Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr Danby.

Mr DANBY: Thank you for appearing here. I asked a series of questions to Mr Richardson about representation of Australia in the former republics of the Soviet Union, such as the Ukraine and Moldova. I was a bit disappointed that I was not able to get an answer on the claim by the Ukrainian authorities that they have offered free land in their national capital for an Australian embassy. We have a whole series of answers coming back and further appearances by the Department of Foreign Affairs so perhaps my frustrations will be solved then.

Mr Vardos : Don’t take it out on us.

Mr DANBY: No, I am not going to. Mr Richardson referred me to you because some of those questions related to immigration issues and to skilled migration categories, particularly in the Ukraine, which as you know is a country of nearly 50 million people, particularly in the eastern part of that country, where there are vast and famous technological academies that specialise in mining. We have all heard of coal production in the Donbus going up by 400 per cent on the five-year plan, and that is where it all comes out of. We have great shortages in categories related to mining engineering, engineering and the types of people produced by these institutions in vast numbers. How do people apply under skilled migration categories in those particular areas if they want to come to Australia? How do they find out about shortages in those areas? Do they have to go to Moscow? Do they have to get a visa from the Ukraine to go to Moscow and then have the honour of applying to Australia from Moscow? How complicated is it? Does anyone do it? If we had diplomatic representation there—I understand that is not primarily your job, but you made a good point that immigration is sometimes a major player in some posts—how useful would it be in fulfilling some of those categories, and do you know anything about this offer of free land in Kiev?

Mr Vardos : The answer to your last question is, no. We do not.

Mr DANBY: I did not expect you would.

Mr Vardos : Clearly, stating the obvious, Australia’s diplomatic footprint is DFAT’s call, and were they to open up in the Ukraine then the government makes decisions about that in conjunction with the relevant ministry.

Mr RUDDOCK: Is there an immigration demand that suggests that should happen? That is really the nub of the question.

Mr Vardos : I cannot answer the question in terms of the numbers coming out of the Ukraine and other former Soviet Republics. We would have to look at the data and see what the volume of business is. I would suspect, though, that the volume is relatively low compared with the rest of the world, but I stand to be corrected by the data.

Mr Williams : It is not an obvious pressure on the department that I am aware of.

Mr Vardos : That begs the question: we were to be more visible, would that generate more interest? It is a bit of a chicken and egg question. People globally who are interested in skilled migration know how to source the information. The principal source of information for migration to any of the major migrant receiving countries is the web. It is the websites of immigration departments in Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and so on. For that reason we are going through a major overhaul of our website. It is a project that is currently underway within my group, because that is the core and principal source of detailed information about the multiple pathways for migration to Australia. In this day and age it has to be the principal tool that we use in areas for those clients that are potentially located around the world where we are not. Should we be in the Ukraine? I cannot answer that question.

CHAIR: This seems to go to the e-diplomacy part of our inquiry. Clearly you have just said that opening extra posts and so on might be less important than putting more resources into the web and other things, at least in terms of skilled migration.

Mr Vardos : It depends on the sophistication of the market as well. We do surveys of our clients, and the majority response is that they like/don’t mind engaging with us electronically. Yes, the face-to-face issue is relevant to some clients in some parts of the world, but if you are looking for skilled migrants that this country needs, with the level of sophistication, education and English language capability, using the web is a day-to-day tool for that cohort, and we have to depend on the web.

CHAIR: What about our reaching out to them through, for example, e-diplomacy things such as Facebook, Twitter and so on? That might be more effective in reaching out to engineers in different parts of the world than perhaps bricks and mortar.

Mr Vardos : Indeed. I even did a YouTube clip, a stand-up to camera, explaining visa changes that occurred 18 months to two years ago. Yes, we do use social media. The web is there for substantial information. YouTube and Twitter are used for instant messaging on issues as they emerge, but they are not our principal source of information. When I did the YouTube clip it was mainly for the domestic market to explain visa changes that were going to impact the international student caseload in this country at that time. We use multiple media methods depending on the target audience, but I would have to say that the web, for those people who are not near or in locations where we are physically present, is still the principal tool for conveying information.

There is another dimension to your question, of course, and that is the 457 temporary skilled program. It is employers that in the large part locate the people that they want to employ, because that person has that skill or that qualification. The onus falls back on the employer to find the people that they want and then ask us to facilitate that person’s arrival in Australia. For the permanent skilled migration program—again, I do not want to sound like a broken record—in the locations where we are not physically present, the web is the principal source of information. I repeat that that is why this year and the next we are putting a considerable amount of effort into upgrading it, to make it more intuitive and simpler to understand.

Mr DANBY: On the specific point of someone responding to information on the web in order to present an application, do they have to get a visa from Kiev to go to Moscow or can they do it directly from there, given the fact that we do not have diplomatic representation?

Mr Williams : It would depend on the visa category. There are some where the applications are made directly to the processing centre in Australia. For example, with the general skilled migration category people apply directly to Australia, so they do not need to go anywhere. In those particular categories a lot of the information is very objective. It is about their academic qualifications and employment history. It is relatively easy to establish that on the papers.

Generally people applying through Moscow would do so through the mail or through couriers and would only go to the office if there was a need for an interview. We occasionally visit parts of the region, but it would not necessarily be quickly enough for some travellers. That is usually to conduct interviews and things for applications that have been received. Mostly we receive applications through the mail in Moscow.

CHAIR: Thank you for your attendance today. If there are any matters that need any additional information, the secretary will write to you.

Mr Vardos : We are happy to provide that.

CHAIR: The secretary will provide you with a copy of the transcript of your evidence, and you can make any necessary corrections to any errors that are made. Hansard may wish to check some details with you concerning your evidence. If they indicate to you that they need to talk to you, it would be appreciated if you could stick around.