Australia has taken a significant step in strengthening business ties with India by introducing extended validity for multiple-entry business visas. The duration of these visas has been extended from three to five years, resulting from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Australia and the enhanced trade relations between the two nations.
Under the newly established “mobility and migration agreement,” business travellers will now benefit from a longer validity period, facilitating increased economic interactions and collaborations. Meanwhile, the visitor visa (tourist stream) will maintain its existing validity of three years.
Furthermore, Australia has streamlined its visa application process to accommodate the rising interest from Indian tourists. With India now being the fastest-growing inbound market for Australia, the country has experienced a surge in visitors, surpassing pre-Covid 2018-19 figures. In the period from June 2022 to May 2023, Australia welcomed an impressive 3.7 lakh visitors from India, marking a growth of over 2%.
In May 2023, Australia witnessed a record-breaking influx of 41,300 Indian tourists, the highest number in a single month since the reopening of Australian borders. As a result of this growth, India has climbed to become the fourth largest inbound market for arrivals, a significant rise from its pre-Covid position of seventh.
To further boost travel and connectivity between the two countries, direct air routes have been expanded. Previously, there were seven weekly nonstop flights by Air India in 2019, but currently, the number has increased to 22, with Qantas also operating flights. By October, Qantas plans to raise the number of weekly nonstop flights to 25, with increased frequency for the Delhi-Melbourne and Bengaluru-Sydney routes.
Australia has taken significant steps to streamline its visa processing for Indian travellers, providing ease and efficiency in the application process. Notably, there is no requirement for biometric data to be given in person, and the entire visa application process can be completed online. Additionally, applicants are no longer obligated to purchase a ticket or make hotel bookings before applying for an Australian visa, making travel planning more convenient for Indian visitors.
As a result of these initiatives and the strengthening trade ties between Australia and India, there has been a notable increase in Indian tourists’ spending down under. According to Tourism Australia, Indian tourists spent almost 2 billion Australian dollars (approximately Rs 11,000 crore) in the year ending March 2023, representing a substantial 16% rise compared to the same period in 2018-19.
India has now become the fifth-largest source market for overseas visitor spending in Australia, with each trip amounting to Rs 3.2-3.5 lakh on average. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Indians held the sixth position as spenders in Australia.
The primary reasons for Indian visitations to Australia are visiting friends and relatives, constituting a significant portion of the trips at 61.7%. Holiday trips accounted for 13%, followed by business trips at 8.6%. The remaining 16.7% of trips were for reasons such as employment, education, and other purposes. With over 10 lakh persons of Indian origin and nearly a lakh Indian students in Australia, the ties between the two nations continue to strengthen.
Tourism Australia, recognising the growing importance of the Indian market, organised its largest-ever trade meet, called Australia Marketplace India, in Bengaluru. The event brought together over 210 delegates, including more than 100 from Australia, further fostering tourism and business opportunities between the two countries.
A spokesperson from the Australian Department of Home Affairs informed TOI about the government’s commitment to clearing visa backlogs, resulting in a significant improvement in visa processing efficiency.
The department has successfully reduced the number of on-hand temporary and migration visa applications, bringing them back to pre-Covid levels. As of June 2023, the on-hand applications for all nationalities are approximately 40% lower than the nearly 1 million on-hand applications in June 2022.
Specifically, temporary visa applications have witnessed a remarkable decrease of 73%, dropping from over 600,000 on June 30, 2022, to just over 161,000 on June 30, 2023. To facilitate this positive change, the government allocated over $36 million in funding to hire an additional 500 visa processing staff during the Jobs and Skills Summit held in September 2022.
Looking ahead, the government has further allocated funds in the 2023-24 budget to support visa processing officers. An additional $48.1 million has been granted for a 12-month period to continue efforts in improving program delivery. All the newly created positions have been filled, and these staff members are now actively involved in supporting temporary and migration visa processing.
The efforts to streamline visa processing have yielded positive results, as evidenced by a significant increase in visa finalisation. The department successfully concluded almost 8.3 million visas in the fiscal year 2022-23, marking an impressive 190.3% surge compared to the previous year (2021-22).
To meet the increasing demand for visas, the department is maintaining heightened levels of activity and staffing to ensure swift processing and timely completion of visa applications. These steps aim to provide a smoother and more efficient visa application experience for individuals planning to visit or migrate to Australia.