What is Causing the Boom in Bridging Visas?

boom in bridging visa holders

There are now over 230,000 people in Australia on Bridging Visas. These are visas held whilst waiting for the outcome of another visa application process – generally a visa application or appeal.

Recent newspaper articles have pointed out that this is bigger than the population of Hobart – it also easily exceeds the number of people in Australia on employer sponsored 457/TSS visas or Working Holiday makers.

This article looks at the main drivers of this startling increase in bridging visas.

Overall Growth

The number of bridging visa holders in Australia increased by almost 18% last year to 230,000. The increase has been particularly sharp since March 2015 with numbers more than doubling since then.

bridging visa holders in Australia 2012-19

There are more bridging visa holders in Australia than working holiday makers or employer sponsored 457/TSS visa holders.

Thousand Visa Holders Mar-18 Mar-19 Increase Percent
NZ Citizens 669.1 676.1 7.0 1.0%
International Students 539.6 617.3 77.7 14.4%
Visitors 396.0 349.5 -46.5 -11.7%
Bridging Visa Holders 194.9 229.2 34.4 17.6%
Employer Sponsored (457/TSS) 151.6 154.2 2.6 1.7%
Working Holiday Makers 148.1 149.1 1.0 0.7%
Temporary Graduate Subclass 485 65.2 80.8 15.5 23.8%
Other Temporary Residence 65.3 66.0 0.7 1.1%
Total 2229.8 2322.2 92.4 3.8%

Bridging Visa Holders by Nationality

When looking at the top nationalities of bridging visa holders, we see that most of the growth has been driven by China, India and Malaysia. China and India are the two largest source nations both for migration and for student visas. Malaysia is not a major source country – so to see Malaysia as the third most common country for bridging holders with a growth rate of 553% since 2015 is very surprising:

Citizenship Country Mar-15 Mar-19 Increase % Increase
China, Peoples Republic of (excl SARs)

11,381

35,869

24,488

215%
India

13,176

35,198

22,022

167%
Malaysia

2,827

18,463

15,636

553%
United Kingdom

6,314

10,352

4,038

64%
Vietnam

3,437

9,969

6,532

190%
Philippines

2,875

8,539

5,664

197%
Nepal

2,238

7,813

5,575

249%
Pakistan

5,241

7,207

1,966

38%
Sri Lanka

6,762

6,465

-297

-4%
Thailand

1,254

5,624

4,370

348%
Korea, South

3,246

5,589

2,343

72%
Iran

7,383

5,310

-2,073

-28%
Not Specified

4,214

4,524

310

7%
Indonesia

1,551

4,444

2,893

187%
Brazil

826

3,806

2,980

361%
Other

38,453

60,070

21,617

56%
Total

111,178

229,242

118,064

106%

Bridging Visas by Pending Visa Application

It would be useful to know the breakdown of bridging visa holders by the type of visa application they have lodged and are awaiting the outcome for.

This is difficult to do, as numbers are not published in this format. The table below is based on:

  • Published pipeline/on hand application figures, where available; or
  • Numbers of migration visas granted onshore, multiplied by the processing time in years

The numbers are based on 2017-18 data, as this is the latest available published information:

Visa Type Bridging Visa Holders (Est)
Partner 34,000
ENS 25,000
Graduate Temporary 21,000
General Skilled Migration 18,500
Protection 18,000
RSMS 18,000
Parent 10,500
Student 9,000
Employer Sponsored (457 + TSS) 2,500
Working Holiday 1,500
Appeals/Other 37,000
Total 195,000

Partner Visas

There are a large number of partner visa applications lodged onshore. Due to limited numbers available in the migration program, processing time for these is now approaching 2 years for the temporary stage. As a result, people waiting for partner visas make up a significant proportion of bridging visa holders.

Permanent Employer Sponsored Program

ENS and RSMS make up a significant proportion of bridging visa holders. There have been a number of reforms to these programs, as well as a clamp-down on integrity. These measures in combination have led to an increase in processing times. Much of the decrease in the migration program in the last 2 years has been due to reduced numbers of permanent employer sponsored visas being granted.

Graduate Temporary Applicants

Graduate temporary visas are available to international students who complete a course taking at least 2 years of study in Australia. There have been significant increases in the number of visas granted in this subclass – over 50,000 in 2018-19. As the processing time is around 4 months, this results in a large number of bridging visa holders.

Protection Visas

Onshore protection or refugee visa application numbers have been increasing markedly since 2015, and from the table below, we can see that Malaysians make more onshore applications for protection than any other country.

Country of citizenship 2014-15 2015-16 2016–17 2017–18 Growth
Malaysia 1,401 3,549 8,579 9,319 565%
China (PRC) 1,299 1,099 2,269 9,315 617%
India 674 582 1,133 1,529 127%
Vietnam 132 206 867 764 479%
Pakistan 717 380 509 589 -18%
Indonesia 119 234 426 515 333%
Fiji 231 298 307 354 53%
Bangladesh 182 149 216 256 41%
Iran 227 170 210 250 10%
Iraq 625 628 469 194 -69%
Other 2,980 2,259 3,305 4,846 63%
Total 8,587 9,554 18,290 27,931 225%

Malaysians are eligible for an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) to enter Australia – this makes it relatively easy for them to apply from within Australia for a protection visa. However, the grant rate for Malaysians is the lowest for the main onshore protection visa source countries, suggesting that many applications are lodged without a genuine claim for protection:

Citizenship 2017–18 Grant rate
Iraq 297 79%
Pakistan 208 69%
Libya 106 99%
Malaysia 90 2%
China (PRC) 87 10%
Iran 79 85%
Syria 55 100%
Bangladesh 44 60%
Egypt 44 49%
Ethiopia 36 80%
Other 379 27%
Total 1,425 18%

Parents

Where a parent is at least 66 years old, it is possible to apply for a parent visa from within Australia, and hence receive a bridging visa during processing.

The number of parent visas granted each year is very limited, which means that processing time is likely to be 49 months for contributary parent visas – these require a fee of over $40,000 per parent.

Processing time for the non-contributory parent visa is currently around 30 years.

Appeals

Where an onshore visa application is refused, the applicant will in many cases have appeal rights to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

As of June 2018, there were approximately 44,000 outstanding appeals in the Migration and Refugee Division of the AAT. Many of these would hold bridging visas.

Conclusion

The growth in bridging visa holders has been startling in the last few years. Most of this has been driven by limited numbers of places in the migration program, leading to longer processing times for partners, parents and permanent employer sponsored visas. However, additional growth has been driven by increased numbers of onshore protection visa applications. The increase in international student numbers has also driven increases in people waiting for graduate temporary visas and student visa extensions. There are also a large number of people awaiting decisions on appeals at the AAT.

For employers, it means that you are more likely than ever to come across potential employees holding bridging visas. Often, bridging visa holders have full work rights in Australia. However, employers should be checking work rights for bridging visa holders regularly. This is because if a decision is made to refuse the visa application, the bridging visa holder will have only 35 days to depart Australia.

Sources