Crackdown on visa vultures
Andrew Trounson and Bernard Lane
August 19, 2009
UNIVERSITIES are pushing for a crackdown in vocational training to root out the visa-driven element of the international student market, which they argue is causing collateral damage to the reputation of the sector.
Universities Australia chief executive Glenn Withers said there was concern that pathways to permanent residency were overwhelming education objectives in areas such as “shorter courses in the vocational end”.
UA is calling for immigration criteria to focus more on advanced skills and educational quality. “Such a focus is also needed for the pathways to provide long-term national benefits and to counter any opportunistic education enrolments in some tertiary areas,” Dr Withers said.
In its submission to the senate inquiry into international student welfare, UA blamed the rorts on students seeking the quickest and cheapest route to permanent residency: “Regrettably the cheap and dirty route to residency has been encouraged and promoted by some offshore education agents and institutions.”
The federal government had inexplicably failed to follow through with a previous plan to regulate offshore agents, according to a migration agent who declined to be named.
In 2006 parliamentary secretary Bruce Billson announced the reform, which was to empower the immigration department to refuse to deal with visa applications from agents unregistered with Australian authorities, whether or not they were Australian nationals.
However, the scheme was not to include temporary student visas.
Last week a spokesman for the department said any attempt to regulate offshore agents faced “distinct challenges” but a voluntary code of conduct was under consideration.
“There's a voluntary code of conduct now for education agents, and it hasn't stopped unscrupulous behaviour,” said Maurene Horder, chief executive of agent body, the Migration Institute of Australia. Ms Horder said there was no reason why Australia could not follow the example of Canada: “They do not allow unregistered agents to lodge applications for a third party.”
In its submission to the Senate inquiry, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training urged the government to move away from requiring vocational students to complete 900 hours of work experience as a pathway to permanent residency. This was open to abuse and easily falsified, ACPET said.
Instead, the council suggested expanded use of the temporary graduate 485 visa under which students prove 12 months of work experience by furnishing payslips and other tangible evidence.
Many submissions to the inquiry called for the government to increase the $12,000 a year in income a student must show, arguing too many arrived with insufficient funds and had to work beyond the maximum 20hours a week.
The amount is arbitrary and has not changed since 2001 but many students mistakenly take it as an accurate indicator of living costs.
“Without proper financial support arrangements, students may need to undertake greater paid work than is compatible with effective studies, and may be forced to live in sub-standard accommodation often far away from their tertiary provider,” Dr Withers told the HES.
The immigration department had established a “high level taskforce” to ensure the integrity of student visa programs, a spokesman said. This included a temporary increase in the number of applicants being interviewed.
In her Senate submission Indian-based education agent Gail Baker called for all applicants to be interviewed in line with practices in Canada and New Zealand. Amid concerns that students are falsifying language tests, she criticised the High Commission in India for giving prospective students the option of being interviewed in Hindi rather than English when the agency had to resolve queries.
Ms Baker also argued the department's tightening of finance criteria for Indian students was misguided as it encouraged students to seek out cheaper and easier diploma courses rather than university degrees. Indian students are now required to prove evidence of finances for three years rather than two as previously.
She said that reducing these financial demands, as well as interviewing all applicants, “would mean that students with exceptionally low levels of English wouldn't apply and we could again attract students to bachelor degree courses, which means that genuine students would apply, and not those simply looking for the quickest route to working in Australia or permanent residence.”