Bonds for residency scheme axed
Higher Education Reporter
The Sydney Morning Herald
March 21, 2008
UP TO 5000 international students and skilled workers who sold their homes and borrowed large sums of money to become Australian residents have been left stranded after a change in government policy.
The state governments have pulled out of a scheme that allowed visa applicants to get points towards permanent residency by investing in 12-month treasury bonds, because they suspected it was open to fraud.
Many would-be immigrants had sold their houses and land in their home countries to free up enough cash to invest in the $100,000 bonds, on the understanding it would get them across the line in pursuit of a visa.
But an alleged $22.7 million immigration scam involving the National Australia Bank has spooked the states into immediately abandoning the scheme, leaving people whose applications were pending in the lurch.
The NAB and the Immigration Department are investigating allegations that one of the bank's employees arranged unauthorised loans for 227 visa applicants from the Indian subcontinent who then invested them in bonds for an extra five points on their permanent residency applications.
The bank's lawyers have told the Federal Court there were very few documents to support the loans, which were discovered only in October last year after the employee went on extended leave.
The NSW Government stopped issuing the bonds to people who wished to use them in their visa applications when authorities were alerted to the NAB's troubles, after discussions with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, said a spokeswoman for the Treasurer, Michael Costa. Other states did likewise.
Mohammad Alam, from Bangladesh, said his father had sold property to raise $100,000 and reach the 120 points required for Mohammad to get permanent residency.
He got 65 points for getting an Australian qualification in the skills shortage area of telecommunications, 20 for reaching a high level of English and 30 for being under the age of 30, but he was relying on the bond for the last five points.
“And all of a sudden, they said we can't take that money,” Mr Alam said.
Shoaib Dilawar's mother sold her house in Pakistan to get him the extra five points. “I applied for jobs and the first thing they ask is, 'Are you a permanent resident?' I say, 'No, I'm waiting' And they say, 'OK, when you get permanent residency, give us a call,' ” the information technology student said.
The Federal Government had already decided to close the scheme from September 1 last year, but several thousand people were waiting for their applications to be processed when the states stopped accepting their money.
A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said the bonds scheme had been closed “because we couldn't see the relevance of offering extra points for a bond when migrants should be selected on their skills”.
The Migration Institute of Australia, the professional body for migration agents, has lobbied the Federal Government to allow those people in limbo to invest their money in Commonwealth bonds instead.
“The applicants applied on the understanding that they would be able to [invest in the bonds],” said the institute's chief executive, Bernie Waters, who estimated between 2000 and 5000 people were in that position.
“Now I'm not saying that's legally enforceable, but it's certainly an ethical consideration.
“These people are highly skilled and would have no difficulty getting jobs in Australia – these people in fact add to the Australian economy.”
The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said he had asked his department for advice. “I have received a number of representations on this issue and am concerned that many people, through no fault of their own, have been treated unfairly,” Mr Evans said.