Caps and Limits on Visa Numbers

Under the Migration Act 1958, the Minister for Immigration has the discretion to impose limits on the number of each visa granted in a given year.

The purpose for this discretion is to allow the Government the capacity to respond to changing circumstances (for example, the need for more or fewer skilled workers in the economy).

When the cap is reached, no more applications for that visa subclass will be granted until the following year (although processing of applications may continue in the meantime). This is bad news for a number of visa subclasses, as it can result in an extremely long processing queue.

According to the Department, numbers in the queue are subject to:

  • changes to planning levels
  • changes in demand for a particular visa
  • fluctuations due to visa grants, refusals and withdrawals
  • fluctuations due to successful review cases, which are given priority.

The most problematic types of visa (for applicants) – in terms of impact felt – is undoubtedly family visas.

In general, the Department will apply a ‘cap and queue’ approach to applications for family visas. Practically, this means that where a person has applied to sponsor a family member to come to Australia, their application joins the queue for that visa subclass and once the limit for the year is reached that application will retain its place in that queue.

For certain visa types, this often means years of waiting for a visa to be granted, with no option to speed it up.

Parent visas are the most extreme example, in terms of processing times.

According to the Department’s latest guidance, applicants for a Parent (non-contributory) visa can expect an approximate 30 year wait for their visa application to be considered after being allocated a queue date.

Even worse are the Remaining Relative and Aged Dependent Relative visa subclasses. Applications that were lodged in 2014 and meet the criteria to be queued are likely to take approximately 50​ years to be released for final processing.

Even with advances in modern medicine, the likelihood of an Aged Dependant Relative living for another 50 years is anyone’s guess.

It seems obvious that the policy intention of these extreme delays is to dissuade applications – and the fact that the caps allocated to these visa types is so small is indicative of this fact.

If you are considering a family visa – or any other visa subject to capping, make sure you ask the Department, or your agent, how long you might be expected to wait for an outcome before you commit significant money to making that application.