Friday, November 14, 2008

Minister plans ban on shaky visa deals

The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, wants tougher laws to combat the rise of shonky education agents promising Australian visas to overseas students when they can deliver no such thing.

Increasingly, unscrupulous dealers in Australia and overseas are selling dubious study packages offering tuition, work experience and an Australian visa, a Senate committee heard yesterday.So worrying was the practice that Senator Evans said he had recently raised it with the Chinese ambassador.

"I have very severe concerns about education agents both in this country and abroad," Senator Evans said.

"If someone gets induced and sold a package in their home country, there's very little we can currently do about that. They arrive with expectations that can't be delivered."

Senator Evans said a lot of the promotion of such packages happened overseas. They purported to glean favourable visa outcomes for would-be students when in fact education agents could not provide immigration advice.

Senator Evans said he was working with the Education Minister, Julia Gillard, to increase the legislative powers available to Australia in tackling the problem.

He had also talked with representatives from Australian universities.

"Obviously they don't want anything that undermines the reputation of Australia's education services," Senator Evans said.

The National Liaison Committee, Australia's peak representative body for international students, said the exploitation began with the introduction of full-fee paying foreign students in 1986, and was worse now.

"It's getting serious now with more private institutions being set up to recruit international students overseas," the committee's president, Eric Pang, said. "Many students are not aware of their rights as consumers. The recruitment agents are profit driven and obviously, looking for numbers. The students are looking for quality education."He said foreign students were pumped with misinformation which led to disappointment and culture shock when they arrived in Australia.

"The gap between perception and reality can be really big, depending on how pretty a picture is being painted by agents offshore. International students need accurate information," Mr Pang said.

Tougher regulation of overseas recruitment agencies was required to stem the problem, many of which were tied to private education providers operating in Australia, Mr Pang said.

He could not say how many students had been drawn to Australia on false promises of a visa.

Meanwhile, the Department of Immigration said it may have to compensate as many as 191 people for wrongful detention.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman, John McMillan, found last year that 247 Australian citizens, permanent residents and lawful visa holders had been wrongly detained between 1993 and 2007.

Yesterday a lawyer for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Robyn Bicket, told a Senate committee those cases had been reviewed.

"Currently we are at 191 cases we believe there is risk of legal liability for compensation," she said.

Compensation has been offered in 40 cases, of which 17 have been settled at a total cost of $1.2 million, she said.

In the year to June 30, the department spent $4.1 million in compensation. Cornelia Rau, the permanent resident wrongly detained for 10 months, was awarded $2.6 million.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald