Australia orders probe into visa fraud claims

Australia orders probe into visa fraud claims

Widespread fraud in Australia's skilled migration and student visa programme has led to tens of thousands of migrants - or more - illegally entering the country and securing work rights.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison yesterday ordered an urgent investigation into reports of rampant visa fraud over the past six years. The reports are based on leaked immigration department documents, which found that as many as 90 per cent of skilled migration visas might be fraudulent.

The documents, obtained by Fairfax Media, reveal that the use of false work references and false qualifications by skilled migrants has been "prolific". Australia takes about 70,000 skilled migrants a year - mostly from India, China and Britain.

Meanwhile, according to the documents, the international education industry is being exploited to procure work and residency rights. An internal report on skilled migration in the state of Victoria concluded that fraud was "extensive" and had led to more than "40,000 suspect visa applications" a year.

Many instances were committed by people who held student visas but wanted to apply for temporary residency, which requires demonstrating hundreds of hours of work experience. In one case, 35 visa applicants claimed to have worked at the same printing factory; 34 of them used the same migration agent.

"The street value of a fraudulent work reference ranges from A$4,000 (about S$4,700) to A$10,000, generally paid in cash," the report said.

The documents reveal that migration agents have been providing fraudulent English language results, and that some educational colleges are effectively designed to allow "non-genuine students" to obtain student visas rather than provide a quality education.

Australia's international education sector is one of its largest export earners, bringing in about A$14.5 billion last year. There are more than 400,000 international students in Australia, with China and India being the main source nations. Currently, Singapore students number 7,275, the bulk of whom - 6,468 - are at universities.

The leaked documents, dated from 2008 to last year, preceded improvements to the skilled migration and international education programmes, including tighter checks on standards at vocational colleges. In addition, the government last year restricted the types of jobs that skilled migrants can apply for, to ensure that they are hired only for "genuine" skills shortages.

The Institute of Migration Agents said new measures include extra penalties for fraud and make it much harder to flout the rules.

One government file said breaches of migration rules involved "people smuggling, identity fraud, suspected child trafficking and national security implications". Another file raised concerns about a migration crime network involving a facilitator with suspected Pakistan terrorist links, as well as "migration agents, employers and education providers who are linked to a significant level of organised fraud and crime".

This article was first published on August 8, 2014.
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