The Department of Home Affairs has been urged by a parliamentary committee to improve its processes so that people seeking to leave Afghanistan are given more timely updates about the status of their applications.
A final report has been issued by the Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade References Committee on Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan and it outlines the problems applicants from Afghanistan have had in getting their documentation through to Australian authorities, as well as the lengthy delays in the department advising applicants of their status in the queue.
The report says the committee was told by Home Affairs in November 2021 that it was aiming to provide initial notifications or receipts to all Afghan humanitarian visa applicants by the end of that year.
Committee members were then told that more than 23,000 applications were still to be registered by January 5, 2022.
“This has left thousands of applicants unsure as to whether any progress has been made on their applications,” the report says.
The Department of Home Affairs should increase resourcing to process the visa applications of the Afghan cohort, the committee said, and that the highest priority be given to get the applications of people trying to leave Afghanistan finalised.
Federal government announcements about the urgent prioritisation of humanitarian and other visa applications from people seeking to leave Ukraine were noted by the committee.
Announcements that visas of all kinds from people seeking to leave Ukraine will receive the highest priority should not, the report says, “have the effect of displacing Afghans and other eligible cohorts of applicants”.
“The committee agrees that applications from Ukraine need to be treated with urgent priority; however, this should not come at the cost of slowing the processing of applications from the Afghan intake,” the report states.
“Rather, Home Affairs should urgently increase its processing capacity and resourcing so as to effectively deal with both crises with the urgency required.”
Committee members also recommended that the Department of Home Affairs provide more detailed material on their website about how humanitarian visas for the Afghan cohort will be prioritised and the average time an applicant can be expected to wait for their paperwork to be assessed.
The committee also heard evidence about the challenges visa applicants have in complying with every element of what is a stringent visa application process and it has asked for flexibility wherever possible to get applications processed.
“Leniency must also be granted in relation to visa application processes, given it is nigh on impossible for visa applicants in Afghanistan to meet normal requirements for health checks, biometric checks, and so on under the current circumstances in the country,” the report says.
“If there is insufficient flexibility in the current system to accommodate this, the Government should consider introducing a separate visa category for Afghan applicants to reduce these administrative barriers.”