The Australian of 10 February 2019 reports the Morrison government is “considering” Mr Joko’s proposal for Australia to relax visa restrictions for Indonesian visitors in line with the “visa on arrival” arrangements for Australians visiting Indonesia.
So apart from hollow promises, what can Morrison do?
The Indonesian President will have already been advised Australia will not offer visa on arrival. Australia has a universal visa system and requires all non-citizens to have been cleared before they board a plane to Australia.
While Australia may improve electronic lodgement arrangements for visitor and business visas from Indonesian nationals, it is also likely the Indonesian President will be advised Australia will not offer Indonesian nationals the highly facilitative Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). The non-compliance indicators for Indonesian nationals would be too high for that.
Tourist and business visa grant rates for Indonesian nationals have declined slightly but remain reasonably high (see Chart 1). Visa processing times for tourist and business visas are also relatively good.
The steep decline in the business visitor grant rate in the September quarter of 2017 will have frustrated Indonesian business people. It is this that the Indonesian President will be responding to as well as the slightly less steep decline in the first half of 2019.
So can Morrison offer an improvement in grant rates, processing times and visa fees for Indonesian visitors?
Morrison will have been briefed on the steady increase in asylum applications from Indonesian nationals (see Chart 2).
This is the result of Dutton’s general incompetence on this issue that has allowed a massive backlog of asylum applications build up. This backlog has created a honeypot for unscrupulous agents and labour hire companies that has now extended to Indonesia.
While very few Indonesian asylum seekers are being approved, the cost of processing at primary and review stages and the cost of locating, detaining and removing unsuccessful asylum seekers is very large. Despite Peter Dutton pretending this issue is a red herring, Morrison will be very conscious of the rapidly growing backlogs of asylum seekers at each of stage of processing and removal.
Without getting on top of this issue, Dutton will be advising Morrison not to take more risks with tourist and business visitor processing out of Indonesia. This will not impress Morrison who desperately wants a win out of the Free Trade Agreement with Indonesia.
But Dutton also has no funded plan to address the explosion in non-genuine asylum applications over the past four to five years. Dutton’s mismanagement will prevent Morrison from delivering on his promises to the Indonesian President.
On the issue of visa fees, the Treasurer will demand offsetting savings for any proposal to reduce visitor visa fees. Dutton has no offsets to offer.
Moreover, Dutton’s visa privatisation plan will drive these fees up higher.
With essentially nothing to offer, Morrison will need all his charm and marketing skills to convince the Indonesian President that he is doing his best while delivering nothing much.
For a Prime Minister who sees himself as a can-do guy, especially on immigration, being impotent on this issue will do nothing for Morrison’s relationship with Dutton.
Abul Rizvi was a senior official in the Department of Immigration from the early 1990s to 2007 when he left as Deputy Secretary. He was awarded the Public Service Medal and the Centenary Medal for services to development and implementation of immigration policy, including in particular the reshaping of Australia’s intake to focus on skilled migration. He is currently doing a PhD on Australia’s immigration policies.