ATEC calls for action on visas

Lengthy processing times and archaic visa application systems are hampering Australia’s competitive edge with India and China, according to the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC).

The organisation has called for both political parties to commit to taking policy action on visa issues which are affecting Australia’s reputation as an accessible destination and the ongoing increases in visa costs, which in last week’s budget hit both tourism and working holiday maker visas.

“ATEC is baffled by the recent budget announcement, increasing the cost of the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa, which went up by more than 5.4 per cent in last week’s budget, while at the same time funding marketing campaigns to ‘reinvigorate’ this market,” said ATEC managing director, Peter Shelley.

“Working holiday makers are one of our highest yielding visitors who travel extensively in regional Australia both spending and working in these communities.

“This is a price sensitive market and with these visas increasing by around $35, it seems we are encouraging on one hand and discouraging on the other.”

Shelley said the situation in India has become dire, with numerous international wholesalers now refusing to actively sell Australia due to the length of time it takes to process a visa to Australia.

“There is a failure to recognise the massive commercial knock-on effects of visa delays and it’s quite common for large groups planning a trip to Australia to collectively change their destination plans if just one traveller’s visa is held up,” he said.

“ATEC has been briefed on a recent case where a group of 700 professionals from India cancelled their trip and went to Canada because Australia’s visa issues were too challenging.

“Previously, our Home Affairs department had a policy of liaising with key travel distribution partners to create visa processing efficiencies but this is no longer the case and we are now seeing bottlenecks of up to 40 days in processing.

“In China, the ADS visa has been long-lauded as a system which guaranteed speedy processing in return for compliance with a number of criteria but we now hear what was once a 48 hour ADS processing time has ballooned to more than a week.

“Even more concerning is the tourist visa (sub-class 600) for Chinese visitors is taking upwards of four weeks to be processed.

“Once upon a time, Australia was a global leader in visa policy and now we are seeing competing destinations not only out-performing us, but stealing market share –  this is just not good enough for an industry worth more than $44 billion in export revenue.”

A recent survey undertaken by ATEC showed the annual cost to business directly attributable to visa challenges can be as high a $250,000 per Australian inbound tourism agency who arranges all travel requirements for international visitors.

“All we request is that Australia’s tourism visa policy and resourcing is competitive – at the moment it’s not and this is damaging Australia’s global reputation,” he said.