Migration Changes-Clare O'Neil

With much fanfare, the Albanese government has announced some ‘major’ migration changes and shakeup of Australia’s migration system.

Tweeting, the Home Minister Clare O’Neil wrote:

Yesterday’s report on Australia’s visa system from Christine Nixon found significant gaps and weaknesses that criminals were routinely abusing to perpetrate some of the worst crimes imaginable.

Peter Dutton personally oversaw this system for six years.

Peter Dutton called Clare O’Neil ‘angry’ and called it (questioning the timing of the release of the report) a stunt for Australians NOT to focus on the real arguments on the referendum, it may be useful to have a closer look at some parts of this ‘announcement megaevent’.

Of course there are two sides to the story as you see here:

The government had ordered a Rapid Review into the Exploitation of Australia’s Visa System in January 2023 by former Police Commissioner of Victoria Christine Nixon.

The Rapid Review report was submitted to the government back in March. Despite promises to release the report to the public before this year’s budget, it was released this week (in the middle of the week prior to voting for referendum) on Wednesday with two government ministers front up the cameras – announcing measures to implement the recommendations made by the report.

While the major announcements figured around the tiding up of the refugee visa applications and applicants’ exploitation by their controllers and sponsors using tactics to delay and extend their stay in Australia while they were engaged in sexual exploitation, the educations sector – international students, migration agents and rogue colleges also found attention and efforts focused at them.

Foreign student numbers had really dried up during COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures but their numbers have jumped back with 370,000 in the country as of late last year.

Requirement to show funds

International students are required to provide proof of funds before travelling to Australia. The report found there were cases same money could have been moved from one account to another after a successful student applicant was granted visa.

In other words, the same amount of money was transferred from account to account to bolster multiple applications.

The rate of rejection of student visa applications in January, which stood around 5 per cent was above 30 per cent by last month.

The government is also looking at introducing changes to prevent “shonks and dodgy operators” from exploiting international student market for profit including:

– banning colleges paying commissions to agents who help them poach international students from colleges or universities;

– a fit a proper person test for college owners; and

– monitoring of student attendance.

Rogue migration agent

The federal government is implementing a crackdown, significantly boosting the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) which oversees the sector. That includes:

– doubling of OMARA staff

– stronger penalties for misconduct and longer periods of deregistration

– mandatory background and criminal checks before an agent is registered

–  OMARA able to impose conditions on migration agents

The review noted that some bad actors, including those who lose their registration as a migration agent, also operate in Australia as unlawful providers of immigration assistance, using family and business connections through networks of education agents, education providers, and travel agents, onshore and offshore.

It compared the penalties in Australia (under the Migration Act) up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of up to 60 penalty units ($16,500)  for the provision of unlawful immigration assistance with those of the UK, Canada and New Zealand being – up to 2 years imprisonment and uncapped fine (UK), up to 2 years imprisonment and $200,000 fine (Canada) and up to 7 years imprisonment and $100,000 fine (NZ).

Clearly Australia has the longest imprisonment term of up to 10 years and a very small amount of $16,500 fine. Although Labor intellectuals can argue on the merits of it, the government cannot blame the Coalition of any politics in the quantum of penalties Australia has.

The much-hyped measures to reign in the rogue migration agents include (the already in place) mandatory background and criminal checks.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said she didn’t expect significant pushback from migration agents.

“[They] want better regulation so that their good reputations aren’t besmirched by these bad apples who are literally facilitating criminal conduct and human trafficking,” she said.

“So we’re not going to make any apologies about properly regulating this sector.”

Is the government playing politics here? Unfortunately, the answer is not a clear-cut NO.

The fact is, various governments, in order to run their agendas of ‘no or least’ taxing regime, have been cutting the public sector, including the department of Home Affairs.

The number of people required to be employed by the department to run its current size of responsibility is way too small, despite the automation and AI systems used.

According to the Nixon report, “the number of temporary migrants in Australia steadily increased through the early 2000s to a peak of just over 2 million prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While numbers reduced during the pandemic, by 30 June 2022 volumes had returned, and there were just under 2 million people in Australia on a temporary visa.” 

It will be interesting to see if there are any real significant fundamental changes the Albanese government has in the pipeline to deliver tangible, real and lasting reforms.

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