Other than claims that people smugglers wanted Labor to win, immigration and population issues flew under the radar during the election campaign – which may have been fortunate for the government.
On the Coalition’s watch, bridging visas have blown out by 147 per cent to a record 229,242 holders at the end of March.
And the number of temporary worker visas is back on the rise.
From 92,906 in December, 2013, the number of bridging visas broke through the 200,000 level in March for the first time, according to the latest Department of Home Affairs figures.
Bridging visas are issued to people waiting for visa applications to be finalised and their current visa expires. The number grew by 18 per cent just in the latest year.
Some of the blowout comes from the record number of protection visa applications – asylum seekers who have arrived by air. As previously reported, the number of asylum seeker applications while Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have been the responsible ministers far outstrips the number of boat arrivals under the Labor government.
Most of the “plane people” are not genuine refugees but are exploiting the system to remain in the country.
Another factor is the government’s go-slow on issuing family visas – mainly visas for spouses – with the wait time running over two years.
Former Immigration Department deputy secretary, Abul Rizvi, has described the Australian visa system as being in chaos.
“The backlogs and processing-time blowouts are truly extraordinary. They force people to bypass the correct offshore visas and enter as visitors,” Mr Rizvi said.
“People arriving on visitor visas and changing their status onshore constituted an astonishing 24 per cent of net migration in 2017-18 – the mark of a visa system out of control.”
Parliamentary Library researcher Henry Sherrell keeps tabs on visa and population figures. He tweeted that the four per cent rise for the year in temporary visas to 2,322,243 was fairly standard, but the change in the composition was important.
Student visas are continuing to grow strongly, up 14 per cent to 612,825.
Mr Sherrell writes that the fall off in temporary skilled worker visas looks to have bottomed out. The government replaced the 457 temporary worker visas two years with the 482 system which has tougher criteria.
Temporary worker visas picked up by 2 per cent over the year, to 154,205. Mr Sherrell thinks they will continue to grow over the “next year or so at least, following recent increases in visa grants”.
Meanwhile the number of Pacific Islands people, working mainly in horticulture in the seasonal worker program for up to nine months, topped 5,000 for the first time in March.
The number of “backpacker” working holiday-maker visas was almost steady in the latest year at 149,143, but that’s down from more than 160,000 four years ago.
The ANU’s Devpolicy Blog reports the seasonal worker program is becoming more professional, better regulated and managed after media reports of workers being exploited.
The biggest temporary visa category remains the “Special Category” – New Zealanders – with 676,084 at the end of March.