Australia’s tourism industry has urged the Home Affairs Department to speed up tourist visa processing as some travellers face months-long delays to enter the country.
In spite of fully reopening to the world in February, Australia has seen a slow recovery for tourist operators and numbers of overseas visitors far below pre-pandemic levels.
“If we make it difficult for them to get a visa and it takes forever, they’ll take their money and trip elsewhere,” Margy Osmond, chief executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum, told the 7.30 program of ABC.
“It is actually damaging our brand not to be able to get those visas out the door as quickly as possible in the most appropriate way.”
However, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the number of visa applications has jumped 427 percent since parts of Australia’s borders were opened in November 2021, and 90 percent of tourist visa processing times have improved from 20 months to 37 days as the backlog of applications is processed.
It is estimated that the $60 billion Australian tourism industry lost 610,000 jobs during the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, Chinese tourists were the largest group of tourists in Australia, with about 1.4 million Chinese visiting Australia annually.
China has now dropped to the eighth place on the list due to the communist regime’s harsh “zero-COVID” policy, which usually comes with strict lockdown and restrictions on leaving the country.
Meanwhile, Australians seeking to travel themselves are also experiencing difficulties after huge numbers of passport applications were received following the lifting of travel restrictions creating a backlog and delay in the issuance of new passports for Australians.
Passport processing times have doubled since October 2021, according to DFAT, which currently advises applicants to allow at least six weeks for a passport.
However, some travellers said they have been waiting eight weeks or more and still don’t know when they will get their passports.
“I’ve had no communication and I’ve been ringing for two weeks, so eight weeks in I just want to see what they say,” Amanda Handley, who was planning a family trip to Denmark, told Sydney Morning Herald while waiting outside the Melbourne Passport office.
Applicants can get their passports within two working days if they pay $225 (US159) for “priority processing” on top of the $308 application fee, according to DFAT’s website.