One of my favourite movies of all time is Gattaca.   The sci-fi thriller starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman.  What interested me at the time was the notion that the human spirit is the key to life.  What interests me now is a sudden realisation that the reality in which our protagonist finds himself may be finding its genesis in our visa system.

“In the not-too-distant future, a less-than-perfect man wants to travel to the stars. Society has categorized Vincent Freeman as less than suitable given his genetic make-up and he has become one of the underclass of humans that are only useful for menial jobs. To move ahead, he assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow, a perfect genetic specimen who is a paraplegic as a result of a car accident. With professional advice, Vincent learns to deceive DNA and urine sample testing.”

So considering that the governments of the world are trying desperately to track our movements with biometrics, microchipping, and the like, it is not completely delusional to consider that perhaps the intention is to create a binary visa system which will eventually map your DNA thereby dictating entry to all and any countries, ports, regions, buildings and what not.  Sounds morbid but let’s take a look at what the Australian Government is spending its money on.

Systems for People

From 2007-20015: the Australian immigration department has spent at least A$2,879,502,000 on information technology related projects or developments.   That does not sound like that much given how quickly IT expenditure has accelerated (across all industries) but when you look at the subsequent decline in departmental staffing numbers from FY2016 to FY2017 (a decline of 1,674 jobs or close to an 11% staff reduction) against a 9% increase in visa grants (application numbers are not available) – there is some evidence of an automated system coming into play.

Now historically, previous Governments have identified the need to improve business processes.  Following government endorsement of the recommendations of the Palmer and Comrie reports in 2005, the department commissioned reviews of its information needs, record keeping and information technology systems. This led to the development of a business and technology blueprint for the department called Systems for People.

The Australian Government announced the programme, valued at $495,000,000.00 over four years, in the May 2006 Budget. IBM was selected as the strategic partner for the programme. It aims to improve departmental performance through the redesign of business processes, better management use of information and modern technological support.

Systems for People introduced new, globally consistent business processes through a series of portals which are based on the key roles performed by staff in the department (for example, visa services, case management, compliance and detention services).

Each portal provides for a single view of a client’s dealings with the department. Built in quality control and decision support tools mandate proper record-keeping practices and provides training and support. Clients can be assured that decision-making will be the same in Perth, Hong Kong or Melbourne and that the means of reaching that decision is clearly documented, understood and traceable.

That sounds great!  Documented, understood and traceable decision making!  Efficient systems creating a reduction in staffing costs!  Something all businesses are striving to achieve.

But let’s back track just a bit.  So in 2006, the immigration department spent $495,000,000.00 over four years then spent $2,879,502,000.00 over the subsequent 8 years.  This reflects an average spend of roughly $120,000,000 per year followed by a sudden leap to $350,000,000.00 per year.  That’s significant by any definition.

Some Pieces to the Puzzle:


The department implemented SmartGate in April 2007.

SmartGate uses face recognition technology to perform a ‘face to passport’ check to verify the ePassport holder’s identity. The automated gate takes a photograph of the passport holder which is matched against the biometric face image captured on to the chip of the ePassport.

The aim of the SmartGate initiative is to allow the processing of increasing traveller numbers at international airports within the same physical space.


The eVisitor service uses technological advances to enhance security and immigration risk screening whilst improving client service by eliminating the need for lengthy application forms. It allows for the automatic granting of visas in more than 80 per cent of applications.

Simplifying entry for more than a million Europeans visiting Australia each year enhances cultural links, encourages tourism growth and facilitates streamlined business relationships.

Massive increases in IT spend, staff reductions & automated decision making – Welcome to the future!