Amid promises from the Albanese government to conduct a “gutsy” review of Australia’s immigration system and its massive visa backlogs, Mr Salamanca’s story is far from unique.
He first arrived in Australia in 2015 to improve his English and suss out longer-term job opportunities. In Colombia, he had been working as a director of an IT company where he implemented a security system in line with the internationally recognised ISO 27001 lead auditor standard.
Although the work restrictions on his student visa meant he was unable to secure steady work in his field of IT, Mr Salamanca said he “fell in love” with Australia after settling in Perth. He picked up part-time work as a cleaner, labourer, barista, a food delivery driver and a computer repairman.
“It’s a beautiful country,” he said, noting he could earn more as a barista in Australia than he could as an IT professional in Colombia. “I was able to buy my stuff and live well and peacefully, even with those casual jobs.”
With his sights set on permanent residency and a career in IT, Mr Salamanca applied for a graduate visa but was knocked back after his case officer judged that the diplomas he had completed in Australia were not relevant to his specified profession.
The rejection meant he could not apply for another substantive visa while remaining in the country, and so he left Australia in early 2020, leaving his belongings in the share house he rented in the Perth suburb of Bayswater.
In May 2020, he applied for a 491 skilled work visa after being nominated and invited to apply for the visa by the West Australian government. In August 2018, the Australian Computer Society had assessed his skills as being suitable for migration under 262112 (ICT Security Specialist) of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations code.
Mr Salamanca thought he would return to Australia on a bridging visa soon after he applied for the 491 visa from overseas. But Australia’s prolonged border restrictions meant he was unable to return to the country before his bridging visa expired.
And now he can only return if and when his 491 visa is granted – despite receiving multiple messages from recruiters trying to fill IT jobs based in Perth.
His migration agent, Reza Aein, of Perth-based Home Migration Services, said Mr Salamanca had provided up-to-date health records and police clearances after receiving requests for more information from Home Affairs, but the department had still not made a decision.
“You find so many good people in Australia trying to help you. But the main barrier is the visa,” Mr Salamanca said.
“You become like a slave of your own project. If you don’t get the job, you don’t get a life.”
A Home Affairs spokesman said the department did not comment on individual cases due to privacy reasons, but noted almost 2.8 million temporary and permanent visas had been processed since June 1, “reducing Australia’s visa backlog as the volume of new applications continues to surge”.
“Over 2.5 million of these applications involved applicants who are outside Australia,” the spokesman said.
“The focus is on finalising temporary and migration applications lodged outside of Australia, particularly visas for temporary work, study and visiting Australia. This will enable more people to enter Australia more quickly, to contribute to the economy and help address skilled labour shortages.”
On its website, the department says that 90 per cent of applications for the 491 skilled work visa are finalised within 12 months if the applicant is nominated by a state or territory government.
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