Unlike visas of most countries, bagging an Australian stamp on the passport has always involved a long wait. Over the past few weeks, visa-processing time for this destination Down Under has only increased; it now takes a month.
On March 31, the Australian High Commission sent a letter to travel agents saying that the visa office has been “currently experiencing very high volumes of visitor visa lodgements…as a result of which visa-processing time is taking longer than usual.”
Visitor-tourist visa applications currently take 17 working days—more than three weeks —to be processed, it said.
“On March 29, we processed applications received on March 3.” Then barely a week later, on Wednesday, the commission increased the visa processing time. “Visitor-tourist visa applications currently take up to 20 working days to be processed. On Wednesday, April 5, we processed visitor-tourist applications received at the High Commission on March 7,” said a note put up on the commission website.
It advised visa applicants not to finalize travel arrangements until they get a visa. “We recommend instead that you lodge your visa application well ahead of your proposed travel date and only finalize travel arrangements after your visa process has been completed,” the commission said.
According to statistics from Australia’s department of immigration and border protection, between April and June 2015, 75% of visitor visa applications filed in India were processed within 10 working days and the remaining took longer. But between April-June 2016, the processing time increased to 12 days. The global average processing time for an Australian visa was 10 days during the same period last year.
Chinese tourists, who are the biggest spenders in Australia (Indians are at number 10 with a per visitor average spend of Rs 2.5 lakh), get their visas faster. In 2015, 75% Chinese tourists got their visitor visas in six days and the waiting time reduced to four days in April-June 2016. The countries where it took longer than India to get an Australian visitor visa for the April-June 2016 period included Philippines at 35 days, South Africa 20 days and Fiji 18 days.
A spokesperson for the Australian high commission said, “There has been a 20% growth in Indian visitor visa applications over the last year. Most visitor visas are valid to travel for up to 12 months, with multiple entry and stay of up to three months. In July 2016, Indian citizens were among the three nationalities to be offered three-year validity visas, which allow stays of up to three months for frequent travellers.”
The surge in visa applications in India was expected. A Tourism Australia forecast said in the next three years, by 2020, India could be among the top five countries for inbound tourists along with New Zealand, US, UK and China. Currently, it is ranked nine.