Consulting firms working on Australia's visa outsourcing program

10 March 2020 5 min. read

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs is working with a cohort of management consulting firms on the planned development and outsourcing of its landmark new visa processing platform. 

The government’s visa reform program is led by the Home Affairs Department and is regarded by many as the most significant organisational reform to the Australian immigration system in more than three decades. Today, a sizeable share of visa applications are lodged on paper, and most decisions are made manually. 

Under the new digital platform, which will be outsourced to the private sector, all visa applications would be lodged and processed in a digital manner. Dubbed the ‘global digital platform’, it will enable visa applicants to use an online self-service platform for the majority of their requests. 

According to the Department of Immigration, Australia – which arguably has the most complex and dynamic immigration laws and policies in the world – receives over 30,000 visa applications each day worldwide. This number is expected to grow by around 35% to 50% in the foreseeable future as global migration continues to pick up, illustrating the need for improving the efficiency of the process.

Australia receives over 30,000 visa applications per day

The visa reform program kicked-off in 2015 with strategic planning and preparation, and early 2017 a public consultation process was launched. Then, with the main requirements on the table, a co-design process was initiated including the involvement of industry experts and a range of departmental officials. 

More than 20 private sector parties and consortia expressed their interest in bidding for the build and outsourcing contract, valued at around $1 billion. Following a competitive tender process, the government narrowed the shortlist to two vying parties: Accenture and Australia Post and the ‘Australia Visa Processing consortium’, a conglomerate consisting of Ellerston Capital, PwC, Qantas Ventures, National Australia Bank and Pacific Blue Capital.

Consulting firms

Since the very start of the program five years ago, consulting firms have played an integral role. Lead consultant Boston Consulting Group (BCG) was first engaged as the strategic consultant to the program in September 2015 and was reappointed in 2017. According to reporting by The Australian, BCG has been paid around $39 million for its services up to 31 December 2019. 

Meanwhile, Big Four firms KPMG and EY are acting as commercial adviser and auditor to the program. KPMG has been on board since September 2017 to provide “business analysis and commercial, financial and program management services, and had been paid $7.3 million as of 31 December 2019. EY’s role focuses on ensuring due diligence on processes, financials and risk & compliance. 

BCG, KPMG, EY, Pragma Partners, Noetic, MXA Consulting, Ngamuru Advisory, McGrathNicol, Maddocks and Minter Ellison

Other consulting firms supporting the reform program include Pragma Partners, a boutique Canberra-based government consultancy; Noetic, a public sector consulting firm with around 70 employees; MXA Consulting, another Canberra-based consultancy; and Ngamuru Advisory, a 10-strong consultant firm to government institutions; and McGrathNicol, a national consulting and restructuring specialist. Legal consultancy is provided by law firms Maddocks and Minter Ellison.

A political debate

Data from the federal government reveals that to date, more than $80 million has been spent on the program, with most of the funding going towards the design and procurement process. A successful bidder however has yet to be selected – the winning provider was set to be selected in October last year, but the decision was delayed for political reasons and alleged conflicts of interests.

According to the Opposition, the plans need to be ditched, mainly due to the fact that it sees one of Australia’s key national security processes privatised. A spokesperson of Labor said, “Visa privatisation was doomed from the outset. Labor along with the cross bench strongly opposes the privatisation of Australia’s visa system. The experts say it’s too big a risk. Privatising Australia’s visa system would be a disaster.”

The government however continues to argue that the new system is needed to keep the immigration process fit-for-purpose.