Irish backpackers tempted by scam to win second year visa
SYDNEY LETTER: Australias department of immigration is going after those who have found their way around the rules, writes PADRAIG COLLINS
The Irish Times
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
AN IRISHMAN was recently fined Aus$1,400 (850) and expelled from Australia after being convicted of immigration fraud. Other backpackers from Ireland are under investigation for similar frauds.
The man was convicted after admitting he bought employment verification details for a second year working holiday visa (WHV) for $500.
For backpackers to get a second WHV they must work for three months in agricultural or regional work during their first visa year. Typically this involves working as a fruit picker or on a building site in a rural area.
From the time the second WHV scheme was introduced in November 2005, about 4,000 Irish have extended their stay.
But many backpackers, in their anxiety to get the visa without doing the tough work, have risked imprisonment for up to 10 years, and/or a fine of up to $110,000 by claiming they worked on a farm when they did not.
This work is proved with the provision of the Australian business number (ABN) of a farmer who has previously hired backpackers, saying you worked there too.
One story doing the rounds of the backpacker community concerns a man, since returned to Ireland, who made tens of thousands of dollars selling ABNs to backpackers desperate to get a second year visa.
Using an alias, he took out adverts on the Gumtree backpacker website under the heading: 2nd year visa, no problem. A fee of $400 would then be required to be paid directly into his bank account once the visa was granted.
Many thought he was a farm manager, reducing the risk of a comeback should the visa application be randomly checked and denied.
He told clients that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) checked only 10 per cent of second WHV applications. These are done online to ensure details are correct.
One Irish backpacker said he was contacted by e-mail after he placed an advert on Gumtree looking for farm work which would help him get a second WHV.
The e-mail said if I gave them $400, they would give me details on how I could get the visa without having to do any farm work, he said.
He turned down the offer, but many others did not and may now be under investigation.
A DIAC spokesperson said: The department has successfully prosecuted an Irish national for second working holiday visa fraud. Another case has recently been accepted by the Commonwealth director of public prosecutions and others are under consideration . . . The department has recently cancelled 32 second working holiday visas in New South Wales on the basis of fraudulent documentation, and refused many applications.
DIAC director Deidre Russack spoke at a backpacker conference last weekend . Theres a lot of fraud . . . theyre not working in regional areas, she said.
Immigration is trying to do something about it . . . Theres a lot of work going on in the department around this issue.
Billy Cantwell, editor of the Sydney-based Irish Echo newspaper, said stories about getting illegal WHVs are passed around in Irish bars and backpacker hostels.
Its very disappointing that Irish nationals have been ripping their own people off, he said.
Word gets out that theres a way round the rules and it spreads like bushfire. People do it without thinking of the consequences.
It would be a dreadful shame if this led to the whole [second WHV] scheme being ditched. It would be a very heavy price to pay if it denied other people a chance to get the visa, he said.
Despite the risks, many people continue to post on internet sites ways to fraudulently acquire a second WHV.
A forum on one Irish website discusses ways around the regional work requirement.
One poster said: There is a scam you can pull. If you find out the ABN of a place or two that someone else worked in . . . you can submit these with false dates etc and hope for the best that no one follows them up and checks. Ive run into a few people now that have their 2nd visa and never picked an apple or melon. It sickens me! Still though, the consequences of getting caugh I do not know. Cant be too good.
On another website a poster talks about those who simply used the same ABN number that their mates had used. They all had about three really nervous days and then got it no worries.
A DIAC spokesperson confirmed that the department is closely scrutinising online advertisements offering fraudulent documentation for the purpose of applying for a second working holiday visa.
Australia is expected to grant 200,000 one-year WHVs this financial year. About 23,000 of these will go to Irish people. Whether fraud affects that number remains to be seen.