The Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s (DIAC) electronic student visa system has come under official scrutiny, with the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) recommending that the immigration agency review the system’s performance.
DIAC established the eVisa system in 2001, to help it deal with massive increases in student visa applications.
An evaluation of the system was undertaken by the agency in 2007, but was never finalised nor formally considered. Thus the performance of the system has gone un-examined, despite it being fully operational for over eight years.
DIAC has responded to the audit by acknowledging the shortfall and agreeing to undertake a formal review of eVisa.
“DIAC is currently in the process of finalising a student eVisa agent registration process and, once completed, work can begin on an evaluation of the eVisa lodgement facility for students,” it said.
Each year, DIAC processes more student visa applications than any other temporary visa class, creating a huge drain on resources. The most efficient means of processing low-risk applications is the ‘autogrant’ function of the eVisa system.
In 2003-04, over 80 percent of international students using eVisa had their applications granted automatically through this function, and in 2007 it was estimated that this had generated $4.9 million in savings in the four years prior.
However, this figure has dropped to a steady 16-18 percent from 2007, owing to an extension of eVisa use to higher risk categories and an associated increase in documentation required for processing.
The audit identified “considerable scope for DIAC to more actively monitor the autogrant rate and examine options for achieving an increased number of autogrants”.
The audit also highlighted a series of issues concerning the integrity and efficiency of data sharing between DIAC and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).
Information regarding the enrolment status of applicants is shared between the DIAC and DEEWR using the Integrated Client Services Environment (ICSE) and Provider Registration and International Students Management (PRISM) systems respectively.
However applicant data entered into the systems was often done so inconsistently by different users, resulting in duplication and data errors.
The audit report recommended that DIAC move to the use of a single unique student identifier to avoid these data integrity issues. The development of a national student identifier has been endorsed by COAG, and a business case for this option has been raised by DIAC on two occasions without success.
The report formally recommended that a high level forum be established between DIAC and DEEWR in order to progress these kinds of inter-agency initiatives.
According to Intermedium’s contract database, DIAC amassed the fourth highest Federal Government ICT procurement total 2009-10. The agency signed $312 million worth of ICT contracts in the period.
The international education and training sector was Australia’s third largest export industry in 2009, behind only coal and iron ore, and was worth an estimated $18.6 billion.