Loopholes in the law are allowing organised crime and illegitimate labour hire companies to exploit Australia’s immigration system and unscrupulous individuals providing unregistered immigration advice, unlawful registered migration agents and education agents are exploiting visa applicants.
Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) (subclass 601) visa holders are using the visa as a gateway to circumvent our immigration system and enter and stay in Australia by applying for a protection visa and obtaining work rights.
These individuals are exploiting Australia’s protection visa and merits review systems by repeatedly applying for merits review of the decision to refuse their protection visa application allowing them to stay in Australia for a significant amount of time and seek employment.
Organised crime and illegitimate labour hire companies are using this loophole to bring out illegal workers who are often vulnerable and open to exploitation. This represents an orchestrated scam that enables these criminal elements to exploit foreign workers in Australia until their claims are finalised.
A disproportionate percentage of ETA visa holders that lodge a protection visa application are Malaysian nationals. The number of permanent protection visa applications lodged by Malaysian nationals over the past three years has nearly doubled. The vast majority of these applicants were unsuccessful. Out of more than 26,000 protection visa applications lodged by Malaysians, only 168 were successful.
The appeals process costs the Australian taxpayer a considerable amount of money. Over the last three years it has totalled over $46 million and taken up to eight years until their claims are finalised in some cases.
Affirmative action needs to be taken against the organisers of illegal work, visa fraud and exploitation of foreign workers in Australia.
In order to prevent ETA visa holders from circumventing the system and staying in Australia for extended periods of time the Committee has recommended establishing a fast-tracked application process by the Department of Home Affairs and merits review process by the Immigration Assessment Authority.
This inquiry also examined the efficacy of current regulation of Australian migration agents and the operation of education agents.
The registered migration agent industry has an estimated value of approximately $877 million. Over the last three years there has been significant growth in the migration advice profession. The total number of migration agents at 30 June 2018 was 7,402.
The international education industry is Australia’s third-largest export sector and the country’s leading service export sector. International students studying and living in Australia contributed $30.3 billion to the Australian economy in 2017. The international student sector continues to grow with data showing that there were 13 per cent more students in 2017 than 2016. Education agents are involved in almost three-quarters of all international student enrolments.
The growth in both these sectors reflects a greater demand by consumers who find it challenging to navigate the immigration system. Individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds engage the services of migration or education agents for a variety of reasons including assistance to complete the more complex visa applications and forms, comprehension of the immigration legislation, and ease of communication through a common language, and helping understand options for studying and living in Australia and any cultural differences.
They are socially, legally and financially vulnerable and are open to exploitation from the actions of unscrupulous, unlawful and unethical registered migration agents, education agents, and individuals providing unregistered immigration advice.
The majority of registered migration agents and education agents are diligent, knowledgeable, hardworking and competent and provide outstanding service.
There are individuals in these industries, however, that take advantage of vulnerable consumers. Evidence to this inquiry showed that some individuals were left substantially out of pocket after being exploited by either an unregistered or registered migration agent or education agent. The victims were left with very little affordable options through which to seek a refund or compensation and the relevant authorities have limited powers in which to take any action.
It is vitally important to ensure that consumers who avail themselves of the services of either a migration agent or education agent are protected from exploitation.
In order to improve consumer protection the Committee has recommended:
establishing an Immigration Assistance Complaints Commissioner with the power to resolve complaints; detect, deter, disrupt, investigate and prosecute unregistered practice; and impose sanctions or fines and/or ordering the payment of costs, payment of refund or compensation;
that the Australian Government introduce a demerit point system for education agents as part of the ESOS Act and National Code;
that the Australian Government publish a register containing performance data on migration and education agents.
The Committee has also made a number of additional recommendations aimed at ensuring that Australia’s registered migration agents and education agents are truly world class providers of immigration assistance including:
a review of the current registration requirements for migration agents;
all new migration agents be required to complete a period of supervised practice;
that registered providers ensure that education agents have the appropriate education and training prior to entering into a written agreement;
that registered training organisations review written agreements with their education agents annually to ensure that they complete an appropriate number of professional development activities each year.
The Committee would like to sincerely thank all of the stakeholders, the peak bodies, government departments, academics, organisations and individuals for their time, effort and resources to make submissions and appear at public hearings. I would also like to thank my hard working colleagues on the Committee.