The Morrison government will spend nearly $20 million over the next four years on measures to encourage more skilled migrants to settle in the regions.

The government will set up a Regional Migration Hub, which will undertake “outreach activities” to help regional employers access skilled migrant workers.

It will also expand the use of special migration programs targeted at individual areas, through Designated Area Migration Agreements. The MYEFO papers did not specify locations.

Some of the money will also be spent on “enhanced” visa processing for regional areas.

Online visa system funding
The budget update also reveals another $72.3 million will be spent on the “design and initial procurement” of a new digital system for visa applications to Australia as it prepares to hand the portal to a winning bidder.

The government has already put the 10-year project out to tender, seeking a company willing to invest around $1 billion to build an online system to handle applications from those seeking to study, work and live in Australia.

In return the company would be allowed to collect an operating fee from each application.

The MYEFO papers reveal the government will spend another $72.3 million on the project before July 1 next year.

The money will “allow the government to progress the design and delivery of next-generation visa processing systems by a market-based service provider”, according to the explanation on page 196 of the papers.

Labor and the unions have attacked the planned privatisation, saying thousands of jobs at the Home Affairs department were at risk and warning of impacts on security assessments.

The government has repeatedly stressed the private company would only be contracted to handle visa applications and to give advice to decision-makers.

“The systems will improve visa decision making by departmental staff and allow for the better identification of risks in the visa caseload.”

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