The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has kicked off a campaign against the Australian government’s visa privatisation plan, labelling the initiative a data security risk.
The new visa business, labelled a matter of national security, will be outsourced to another party that will be charged with processing visa applications.
During the 2016-17 12-month period, 8.78 million visas were applied for, and the government expects this number to reach 13 million by 2026-27.
Bundle 1 of the visa program includes a major IT component, with the third-party vendor required to offer up a Global Digital Platform (GDP) that is a “world-class digital platform”.
The GDP and supporting systems are expected to “drive the end-to-end processing and workflow of the visa and citizenship business”, which includes lodgement, assessment, and rule-based decision-making on visa applications.
The CPSU is concerned that the work functions to be privatised leave minimal work for Home Affairs staff.
“Based on previous ICT upgrades and outsourcing projects it is unlikely to lead to savings and more likely to lead to reduced services and data security risks,” the CPSU wrote [PDF].
“The planned privatisation poses a threat to national security, privacy, and your jobs.”
The global visa business services is a multilingual user base and requires 24/7 system support and live data feeds to inform global traveller clearance in real time. Given the “significant volume” of data generated during its process, Home Affairs has asked the solutions provider to adhere to the Australian Privacy Act 1988, including the Australian Privacy Principles set out in that Act.
Under the new visa system, the government expects to still be responsible for performing sovereign functions, including policy, visa decision-making, and security checks.
“Visa Services staff are dedicated and highly trained. The government should be investing in internal systems and their staff, not handing more than AU$2 billion in Commonwealth revenue to the private sector,” the CPSU added.
“Visa services are too important to the security and fabric of Australian society to be handed over to private for-profit companies.”
The union estimated that 2,500 jobs could be lost under the new regime.
Currently, only 20 percent of the country’s visa service is outsourced, and during his 2016 election campaign, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned against outsourcing too many government services.
Following the announcement the government was reforming the country’s visa system in April, it is seeking an external IT services provider to design, implement, and operate Australia’s visa business.
The newly shaped superministry is working through its data problem while coming to grips with being understaffed and operating 20-year-old systems run on a mainframe.
The country’s newly crowned Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton has said facial recognition at airports in Australia is merely a few ‘technology generations’ away from being rolled out.
E-passports contain a cryptographic hash of a passport holders’ details, designed to make it almost impossible to forge a travel document or steal someone’s identity.
A new federal program called Biometric Exit would match the photos of visitors flying out of the US to their visa photo, in an effort to curb illegal immigration.