‘Surge in dodgy visa applications’ after Australia scraps work limits

Pakistan, Nepal, Kenya, Ghana and three Indian states named as sources of ‘emerging integrity issues’

July 13, 2022
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Australian immigration officials are struggling to contain an “influx” of visa fraud after limits on students’ paid employment were scrapped early this year.

In an unusually frank “provider update” on the student visa programme, the Department of Home Affairs reports finding fraudulent documents in visa applications “across all educational sectors”.

The update says economic uncertainty in many countries has fuelled a surge in “non-genuine applications” from people “whose primary purpose is to work in Australia”. It describes the “widespread” use of faked financial documents indicating that applicants have sufficient cash reserves to support themselves.

Phony credentials, identity papers, language test results and prior travel histories have also been found in applications for visas to study university courses, including master’s and doctoral degrees.

In a “bumper July edition” – the first such update since Australia’s borders reopened late last year – the department identifies countries where “emerging integrity issues” are concentrated. They are India – specifically the states of Haryana, Gujarat and Punjab – along with Pakistan, Nepal, Kenya and Ghana.

The update urges universities and colleges to maintain “close oversight” of their education agents and sub-agents. It says several agents were linked to “large volumes” of Indian applicants who, when interviewed by officials, clearly lacked English proficiency, “with many admitting that their Indian qualifications were fraudulent and some had not completed the equivalent of year 12 level studies”.

A “small group” of education agents was implicated in sham financial and educational documents found in many applications from Pakistan, while applications from Ghanaian doctoral candidates contained faked prior visas and identity papers.

Migration expert Abul Rizvi said it was “unusual” for public servants to highlight individual countries in this way. “I’m glad they’ve picked up the fraud issue and they’re acting on it,” said Dr Rizvi, a former deputy secretary of the immigration department.

He said Australia now had the “most generous” work rights of the major education destination countries, both for current students and recent graduates. “Those two factors will inevitably lead to Australia being more vulnerable to fraudulent applications. In many ways, we are attracting the problem to ourselves.”

The update says that the government is addressing the visa application backlog as a priority, with processing occurring on weekends, and staff reallocated to help out. More than 100 new employees have also been hired in recent weeks, with recruitment efforts “continuing at scale”.

Median processing times – which currently sit at about four weeks for foreign undergraduates and nine weeks for PhD students – are “competitive” with overseas time frames of about five weeks in New Zealand and the UK, 12 weeks in Canada and anywhere from two days to 12 weeks in the US, depending on applicants’ nationalities.

The proportion of student visa holders stranded overseas has dropped below one-quarter after tens of thousands arrived in Australia between late November and late May, including about 34,000 from India, 26,000 from China and 19,000 from Nepal.

The update suggests that the department has also resumed a pre-Covid practice of automatically rejecting applications that lack required papers. “This means that visa applications may be finalised without asking for further information,” it says.

Dr Rizvi said that the department would be justified in relegating incomplete applications to the back of the processing queue. But automatic refusal was “over the top”, reflecting “really poor client service” from an organisation that had become “overwhelmed” by work pressures.


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