World News

Visa System Loophole Sees Fake Students Flood in to Work Illegally

Criminal groups are taking advantage of Australia’s weak education visa and immigration systems to flood the country with fake students to work illegally, including in the sex industry.

A review by Christine Nixon, the former Victoria police chief, revealed that immigration policies relating to vocational education should be reviewed immediately as they have been widely abused, and the government may need to overhaul the working visa system.

“If the real, unstated reason that Australia has such a generous and poorly regulated education visa system was to bring in low-skilled workers, a broader review of Australia’s working visas is needed,” Nixon said in the review.

Educational Agents Need Regulation

The review found that educational agents, paid by tertiary institutions to bring 75 percent of foreign students to Australia, were completely unregulated.

Unlike the United States and some other countries, Australia lacks a scheme to register and regulate these agents, which are paid by institutions to recruit students from overseas.

While the previous Australian administration also tried to regulate them, the potential cost was an obstacle.

University of New South Wales Australia UNSW
Students walk around the University of New South Wales campus in Sydney, Australia, on Dec. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

The Australia Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), which oversees vocational education institutions, including 800 colleges that teach all qualified international students, is also focused “on achieving quality education outcomes” rather than “deterring and disrupting visa exploitation.”

It is found that 15 percent of student visa holders in the vocational education system dropped out of their courses and did not re-enrol in other courses.

They were able to stay and work in Australia despite breaching key conditions of their visas.

The federal budget announced last week estimated that international students would account for half of this year’s record net migration forecast of 400,000. The budget also contains at least AU $50m (US$33.1 billion) in new funding to deal with border security gaps exposed by smuggling people.

As Australia’s biggest export industry after mining, education is worth more than $40 billion a year and provides employment for 250,000 Australians. The surge in student visa applications has raised concerns in the industry about the behaviour of unscrupulous educational agents.

A Closed Loop Criminal Network

The review highlighted a criminal organisation in the sector that employed discredited education agents and immigration agents “united through family ties and business co-ownership” to bring in fake students. They also own or control the vocational education colleges that these students attend.

This basically created a closed-loop criminal network targeting sex trafficking.

“The network’s services are likely being used to enable at least 128 sex workers to maintain student visas without having to attend classes or complete course requirements,” reads the report.

Epoch Times Photo
Former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon leaves the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants at the Fair Work Commission in Melbourne on Dec. 18, 2019. (David Crosling/AAP Image)

In some cases, the sex workers knew they were in Australia illegally and had paid education agents between $4,000 and $5,000 to get here. These agents, in turn, pay the providers to cover their attendance and course progress.

“Many visa applications contain applicant signatures digitally lifted from a scan of the applicant’s passport and appear on documents that provide consent for third parties including [registered migration agents] and legal practitioners to act on the applicant’s behalf,” the report said.

A 2019 parliamentary committee recommended greater scrutiny and oversight of educational agents, yet few of the recommendations were adopted. The Nixon report said the government must look again at regulating educational agents, both inside and outside the country.

Immigration agents, which are key channels for foreigners to enter Australia, had undergone only “limited identity and background verification,” according to Nixon.

For the first time, she proposed mandatory “comprehensive background checks” for immigration agents to prevent unscrupulous agents from entering the lucrative yet lightly regulated industry.

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