Thousands of foreign students in visa fraud racket

Tens of thousands of foreign students have become permanent residents in Australia as a likely result of widespread fraud and corruption within and outside the federal Immigration Department.

Documents provided to Fairfax Media journalists and an investigation by Monash University academics has revealed that thousands of foreigners have avoided federal regulations and been granted illegal permanent residency visas. The huge numbers involved has led directly to rising unemployment levels among young Australians, including university graduates.

In a Fairfax article on 7 August, investigative reporters described how a corrupt Immigration Department official and her Indian husband helped run a A$3 million (US$2.8 million) criminal migration racket involving more than 1,000 fraudulent visa applications.

Three days after immigration and federal agents raided their home, the couple fled to India – having previously wired more than A$1 million to overseas bank accounts in 48 hours. The investigators failed to take basic measures to stop them leaving the country, the journalists reported.

New study on migrants and jobs

At the same time as newspapers were reporting the scandal, Dr Bob Birrell and Dr Ernest Healy released their own study showing that Australia’s high rate of recent migration had coincided with a slump in the rate of new job creation to around 100,000 a year.

They found that the influx of recent migrants, including foreign students, had taken almost all of the net jobs growth.

“[These recent arrivals] are doing so at the expense of Australian-born and overseas-born residents who arrived in Australia before 2011. This is showing up in increased unemployment and decreased participation in the labour force by these groups,” Birrell and Healy say.

“The hardest hit are among Australia’s young people seeking entry level semi-skilled jobs and recent graduates in a widening range of professions, including nursing, information and communication technology and accounting.”

The Monash researchers demolish government claims that high migration is needed to obtain skilled workers who supposedly are in short supply in Australia.

They show the claims are false and that one reason is that under the skilled migration programme, thousands of former overseas students who were allowed to remain in the country after tighter immigration reforms were imposed in 2010 are now being given permanent residency visas.

The reforms were adopted following earlier revelations about fraud and corruption among newly-established colleges deliberately established by crooked business people to offer training to foreign students as a means of obtaining permanent residency.

Students paid large sums to the colleges and received residency visas despite failing to complete their courses or undertaking any training.

“Most [of these students] were granted concessions which allowed them to apply for points-tested visas on favourable terms. This is why accountants and cooks have been among the largest occupational categories visaed despite being in surplus,” Birrell and Healy write.

Procedures on migrant skills not working

They say another reason is that the procedures to limit the migrant intake to skills needed in Australia – so as to protect the interests of local job seekers – are not working.

Professions named on the Immigration Department’s skilled occupation list include accountants, nurses, dentists and ICT professionals despite strong evidence there were already more qualified local people than the jobs available.

“Hundreds of resident graduate nurses cannot find nursing positions. Yet in 2012-13 there were 2,855 permanent entry and 2,853 temporary skill visas issued to registered nurses. Many more are in the visa pipeline,” the researchers say.

“In the case of Australian graduates in ICT occupations, though there are less than 5,000 university completions in this field each year, they are having trouble finding entry level jobs. This is because some 20,000 permanent and temporary entry visas are being issued to migrants with ICT qualifications each year.”

A similar situation occurs with accountants: nearly 7,000 foreign accountants obtained visas to stay in Australia in 2012-13. Yet 7,200 Australian students graduated from the nation’s universities in accounting at the bachelor and higher degree level in 2012.

Birrell and Healy say successive Australian governments have allowed the pool of temporary residents to access the nation’s labour market, including foreign students and visitors on holiday visas. They are able to prolong their stay in Australia by ‘churning’ or changing from one visa to another while working illegally.

They are also “feeding the ranks” of those keen to find an employer to sponsor them for a temporary or permanent employment visa and are competing with young Australian resident job seekers for semi-skilled entry level jobs.

The researchers call for government action to ensure Australian job seekers are given priority access to the limited number of new jobs being created. They say this must include a reduction in the permanent entry programme by restricting it to migrants where there is a well-documented case that the occupations are in short supply.

“In a new era in which job growth is likely to be far less than during the last decade, it is no longer justifiable to place so much reliance on immigration to fill these jobs. Australian governments and employers need to get serious about training Australian residents for these jobs where they do not have the required skills,” Birrell and Healy say.