Last week at a multicultural media conference, Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Minister Andrew Giles said that the Albanese government “the visa system is in a much stronger position” than it was since Labor came into office. Minister Giles said, “1,000,000 visas were awaiting processing in our in-tray.”

The Minister apportioned blame on Peter Dutton, who was responsible for the Home Affairs portfolio, who Giles said “oversaw a slow, complicated, and fundamentally unplanned mess.” The Minister said the government had not “wasted a day” in resolving a visa backlog and “addressing workplace shortages in key sectors or reuniting families.”

He said that wait times are down across all visa categories, for example, temporary skilled work, which Giles said now “takes 11 days to process, down from 50 days. That’s 50!”

He also referred to “initial partner visas”, now being processed at a first stage for five months, “nearly half the time it was a year or so ago.” He called partner visas “fundamentally important for those human connections that are such a big part of our multicultural society.” Minister Giles said that while the work “isn’t finished”, he was pleased with the progress as “healthcare and education workers are seeing visas”.

“Applications are assessed in just a couple of days, ensuring that schools, hospitals, and other facilities are appropriately staffed.”

He discussed various visa categories, such as the 888 visa, aimed at business, innovation and investment programs. A visa category he said was “completely neglected under the former government.” Minister Giles said he had asked the department “to prioritise this group” to ensure that those who have “made a strong commitment to Australia” can move towards a permanent. He added that “most of these applications will be assessed by the end of the year.”

Minister Giles said that his government was focused on investment into the visa system and “dealing with the backlog is to create space for reforms in critical areas”. He emphasised the difficulties that “many faith communities face in accessing faith leaders, be they a monk, an Imam or a priest, to make sure that we have a system that’s fit for purpose in that regard.” The government 2022 committed to the migration review led by former public service chief Martin Parkinson, handed to the government earlier this year. The Parkinson review makes a case for wholesale reform to the migration system to prevent Australia from becoming a nation of “permanently temporary” residents.

The 200-page report proposes changes to the skilled migration program student and employer-sponsored visas. It outlines the steps needed to ensure Australia can “reap the opportunities and navigate the challenges” that arise over the next two decades.

Minister Giles then referred to Clare O’Neil, the Minister for Home Affairs, who is working with him in preparing a response to the review report. Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil’s response to the Parkinson review will result in the creation of a tiered system, where few regulations apply to firms bringing in high-wage workers earning above a yet-to-be-announced salary threshold, “while extensive regulation and union oversight will apply to jobs in the low-paid care sector, for workers earning less than $70,000.”

According to a recent report in The Australian Financial Review report, the government indicated the threshold for access to the high-skill tier is likely to be around $120,000 but potentially as high as $150,000.

However, according to the AFR report, not all high-income workers will inevitably qualify for the highest-skill tier of the new system.

“The government flagged moves to exclude skilled tradespeople from the high-income tier, even if their proposed salary is above the required threshold, sources involved in the consultation said. The new carve-up would exclude jobs such as highly skilled chefs, mining workers, and machinery installers who train local workers.”

The report suggests that unions lobbied Minister O’Neil to limit the skilled labour rate, especially those earning over $120,000.”

Neos Kosmos asked the Minister about the AFR report, given the shortage of trades in the housing development sector. Minister Giles said he was “unfamiliar with the article in question” but that the government “are very conscious of the issue of skill shortages across skilled trades.”

“We must get the balance right between, on the one hand, recognising short-term skilled shortages and the role of temporary skill shortage visas, which, as I said earlier, are being turned around in about one-fifth of the time they were under the former government, whilst ensuring that these visa types do not become a replacement for a domestic training agenda.”

He added that the role of Jobs and Skills Australia is “fundamentally important” because, according to him, there have been “two tracks moving in different directions.”

“We’ve had workforce shortages that should be short term, are becoming endemic and denying people the opportunity to build their skills where there’s huge demand.”

The Minister added that “in the housing debate” was “broadly recognised that we desperately need skilled trades if we’re going to build the houses, that we need to respond to this crisis, and that will involve, in the short term temporary skill shortage visas.”

The Minister also said the immigration review publication is anticipated “very shortly”.

“I won’t be exclusively revealing any details of it in this press conference, but I will get Minister O’Neil to come to the first one of these press conferences after the strategy’s release, which will be in the not-too-distant future.”