People whose visas have expired are a bigger problem for Australian immigration than asylum seekers, according to a migration expert.
Data from the Department of Immigration and Border Control shows there are 64,600 lapsed visa holders in Australia. This is more than triple the size of last year’s refugee intake. The 2015-16 refugee intake was 17,555, including the extra places granted to 12,000 Syrians and Iraqis.
Most of the visa overstayers (about 47,000) were on tourist visas, followed by around 10,000 on student visas. About one in six are Malaysians, with nearly 10,000 living here in June 30 last year. Malaysia is covered by the Electronic Travel Authority, which means their tourist visas are essentially approved automatically.
Marianne Dickie, who teaches a Masters in migration law at the Australian National University, said the numbers showed that the Immigration department was failing to handle the issue. She believes Immigration officers rarely pursue overstayers.
The Immigration department denied this, telling SBS it conducts regular “targeted field compliance activity” to locate people expired visas. A spokesperson said the rate of people reporting themselves had increased in recent years, and the “vast majority” complied with Australia’s migration laws and programme.
Ms Dickie also said the Immigration department’s push to shift its operations online had made it easier for people to overstay, and also harder for people to comply, because it was more difficult to talk to someone face to face.