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Visa fraud, migration crime ‘rampant,’ Immigration Department files reveal

Rampant visa fraud and migration crime involving people flying into Australia are going unchecked while the government focuses on stopping boats, according to secret government files detailing entrenched Immigration Department failings.

Hundreds of pages of leaked confidential departmental documents obtained by Fairfax Media reveal that Australia’s national security is being compromised by wide-scale visa rorting and migration rackets operating with impunity, including some with links to terrorism or organised crime.

The confidential Immigration Department files reveal repeated internal warnings over several years that widespread visa fraud is “business as usual yet remains largely untreated” because the department’s investigation and enforcement capacity has collapsed.

Secret departmental operations have estimated that as many as nine in 10 skilled migrant visas may be fraudulent, while an internal inquiry into Afghan visa applicants in 2012 assessed that more than 90 per cent of cases contained “fraud of some type” and raised “people smuggling, identity fraud, suspected child trafficking and national security implications”.

Also, a 2010 report reveals that immigration investigators had uncovered a Somali people-smuggling cell in Melbourne linked to terrorist suspect Hussein Hashi Farah, who “is believed to have links to the al-Qaeda offshoot al-Shabab” and who fled Kenyan counterterrorism officials using an Australian passport in 2010.

But the departmental file shows that a 2009 investigation into the cell’s activities was “deemed low priority and ceased due to a lack of resources”.

Another file details a migration crime network involving a facilitator with suspected Pakistan terrorist links, along with “migration agents, employers and education providers who are linked to a significant level of organised fraud and crime”.

Fairfax Media has confirmed this network was never properly probed, allowing many of its members – including federal government licensed agents – to continue to operate.

The leaked files also reveal:

■ Tens of thousands of immigration fraudsters living freely after being assisted by migration crime networks exploiting weaknesses in working, student, family and humanitarian visa programs, including loopholes that have left the department sometimes ”generating the fraud”.

■ The department is ”responsible for granting a record number of student visas to people who may not be considered genuine students as well as granting permanent residence to skilled migration applicants who do not have the appropriate skills being claimed”.

■ In 2013, department chiefs were warned in a confidential report that the agency’s investigations arm had collapsed, risking ”the integrity of its programs and ultimately national security”.

The February 2013 ”report relating to the agency’s declining capacity to investigate fraud against its own programs” was written by still-serving immigration official and former assistant director of investigations Wayne Sievers.

It states: ”The investigation network is now in a far worse condition than at any time in its history.

”Major organisers of fraud on Australia’s immigration and citizenship programs realistically need have little fear of detection, arrest and prosecution.”

Fairfax Media has also obtained new departmental data that suggests weaknesses in the skilled worker visa programs are increasingly being exploited, with thousands of foreign cooks and accountants being given visas despite an excess of local candidates.

Monash University immigration expert Bob Birrell, who has reviewed the data, said the revelations exposed a ”massive double standard” involving successive governments cracking down on boat arrivals while ignoring migration fraud and rorting involving plane arrivals.

”The debate has been dominated by the boat people issue,” he said. ”It’s about time it turned to what really is an even more serious issue, which is this vastly excessive overall [visa] program, and lack of attention to managing it.”

Migration lawyer Nigel Dobbie said the Immigration Department needed an urgent injection of at least $500 million to enable it to operate effectively.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the allegations about administration under the previous government were serious and went to the integrity of Australia’s immigration program.

The minister would seek an urgent report from his department on the issues raised and consider further action.

Immigration Department insiders have warned that investigation failures are set to worsen with the merger of the Immigration and Customs departments into a ”border force” in 2015 because of corresponding budget cuts, and uncertainty as the new agency ”finds its feet”.

The leaked documents cover a period between 2008 and 2013 and consistently show far greater rates of migration fraud than has been publicly revealed, along with warnings that the department was failing to combat it.

A 2010 report states that ”evidence uncovered to date indicates that fraud within the General Skilled Migration program is extensive with estimates at around 90 per cent [or] more than 40,000 suspect visa applications lodged per year for the last three years”.

The report warns that ”resourcing constraints presently restrict” the department’s ”ability to adequately address these issues”.

In 2012, immigration officials assessing Afghan applications noted that ”fraud is now ‘business as usual’ ”. They also noted the ”considerable concern” about the department’s inability to counter it.

A 2010 report into a Somali people-smuggling network stated that despite evidence pointing to multiple breaches of the Criminal Code Act and the Migration Act, the department had secured ”only one minor prosecution”. ”Media attention and three PMQ’s [prime minister briefings] on this issue have not been enough for the government to address this situation,” the immigration file states.

A 2009 report reveals that the ”student visa program is failing”, ”the general skilled migration program is failing” and the falsifying of qualifications was ”prolific”.

Sources said although policy changes – including an overhaul of the student visa system in 2010 and new anti-fraud rules – made it harder to rort some visa types, there has been no effort to repair the decline in the investigation arm.

Courtesy of The Age: Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker

Administrator’s note

It is essential given the nature of the immigration space and the attraction Australia has as a free society that the department must be vigilent about the integrity of the immigration system.

The papers released and referred to in the article in The Age indicated that the department under the previous government and continuing into this government , had dropped the ball on the compliance side of things so that the chances of those fraudulent employers being caught ‘rorting’ the system were virtually non-existent.

As a registered migration agent we are subject to strict codes of behaviour and investigation by our regulatory body MARA, and also to departmental monitoring, but this apparently only seems to apply to registered agents and not the bulk of unregistered agents here and overseas and also education agents. Request referring dubious practices disappear without apparent follow up and larger employers ( not all miners) seem to be able to do what they like, when at the same time small to medium employers wishing to sponsor get tied up with the red tape introduced by the previous government and not entirely un-done by the current liberal government.

Constant reference to the 457 visa program allowing employers the ability to import cheap labour are galling to agents and employers doing the right thing and means that these employers are ‘rorting’ the system, because there are strict rules as to market salary and other protections is place to protect the integrity of the program. However the integrity of any system is only as good as the will or capacity to actively monitor and require. Clearly this appears to have been the problem not only with the 457 program but across the board.

Until such time as the government arms the department with the tools and personnel , then the system will be compromised. History has shown that regrettably there are enough errant employers and scurrilous agents ( largely unregistered) and education agents who are prepared to test the system, and this emasculation of the department’s capacity has been shown to be responsible for the system unravelling.

Perhaps its time to reset the Governments obsession with ‘stopping the boats’ and the pitiful numbers of passengers, to concentrate on the much larger numbers of persons arriving more conventionally and obtaining entry by fraudulent means. That must mean beefing up department numbers at the processing stage and compliance stages.