Australia’s leading migration groups have warned that the planned $1 billion visa platform outsourcing is a disaster in waiting.

The Federal Government is looking at outsourcing visa processing to a private platform provider.

The Migration Institute of Australia (MIA) and Migration Council (MCA) have responded to the Senate committee looking into “the impact of changes to service delivery models on the administration and running of government programs”.

They say the transition to a new external operator could collapse the industry if it is not executed perfectly.

They are concerned that a loss of direct control over visa processing could have profound unintended consequences that far outweigh the potential $1 billion in savings.

The MIA, which helps with tens of thousands of employer-sponsored technology skills visas each year, says the whole automation of application processing is destined to fail and should be junked.

The MIA’s submission states that while simple visitor visas could be automated, “other visa classes require the review of extensive documentary evidence and subjective decision making”.

“It is difficult to reconcile the complexity of the current migration program with attempts to automate 90 percent of processing or to automate subjective decision making,” the MIA submission warns.

“The MIA’s grave concern over multiple aspects of the proposal leads the MIA to call for rejection of the privatisation of the visa and citizenship program and for the tender for this privatisation to be withdrawn.”

It also cautions “that privatisation and automation of application processing [will] be unable to adequately protect data that impacts national security and the privacy of applicant.”

The Department of Home Affairs is looking at tenders to build the proposed outsourced and automated system, which it calls the Global Digital Platform.

The two main contenders for the bid are ‘Australia Visa Processing’ – a conglomerate including Ellerston Capital, PwC, Qantas Ventures, NAB and Pacific Blue Capital – and an Australia Post and Accenture consortium.

Migration agents and the broader industry want to keep their own expert visa application channel alive.

The Migration Council is concerned that the government will lose flexibility and control over how it responds to a “rapidly changing migration context”.

“The integrity of the visa system and the faith of both users and the public in its effectiveness, is contingent on the Department being able to demonstrate an ability to adopt an evidence-based approach by evaluating past actions and outcomes and adapting future policies accordingly,” it said.

“Therefore, the Department’s ability to iteratively incorporate the knowledge gained through ongoing evaluation of and experience with the processing system is critical.

“A privatised platform which requires external capability to run and amend—including amending visa categories, assessment criteria for specific visas, or business rules—complicates the task of effectively administering such a complex system against the backdrop of a constantly shifting migration context,” the Migration Council said.

The peak body also noted that the systems require high degrees of human nuance and subjective judgment.

“Adequate risk management mechanisms are required to ensure strong governance of outsourced algorithmic and automated decision-making, in order to identify and mitigate any data-driven bias or discrimination,” the Migration Council submission said.