Thursday, 21 February 2019
Joint Standing Committee on Migration; Report
On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I present the following reports: a report, incorporating a dissenting report, of the inquiry into the review processes associated with visa cancellations made on criminal grounds; and a report, incorporating a dissenting report, of the inquiry into advocacy of the current regulation of Australian migration education agents. I seek leave to make a statement on the first report.
On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I am pleased to present the committee's report for its inquiry into the review processes associated with visa cancellations made on character grounds.
Before continuing, I would like to thank the secretariat, which did a fantastic job: Pauline Cullen, committee secretary; Paul Zinkel, inquiry secretary; Emma Banyer, inquiry secretary; and Tanya Pratt, office manager. They did an incredible job putting the report together and giving the committee fantastic assistance.
The inquiry was referred to the committee by the Minister for Home Affairs on 14 March 2018. It provided an opportunity to look at the role of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in conducting reviews of character cancellations made by the Department of Home Affairs.
Sections 501 and 116 of the Migration Act allow the minister, or his delegate, to cancel the visas of noncitizens who pose a threat to our community, allowing for them to be deported.
These provisions are working well to remove dangerous criminals.
In 2018 alone, according to the minister, 13 murderers, 34 rapists, 53 domestic abusers, 56 armed robbers, and 100 paedophiles had their visas cancelled under these provisions.
But sometimes the AAT steps in and overturns the government's decision. The committee heard that the AAT generally overturns about 20 per cent of the visa cancellation decisions made by delegates in the Department of Home Affairs.
Some of these noncitizens the AAT has saved from deportation have committed serious crimes. I strongly believe these decisions are not aligned with community expectations.
Australians expect that visitors to our country will obey the law. When noncitizens break the law, especially if they commit serious violent crimes, Australians expect that they will lose the right to stay here.
To improve the quality of decision-making in the AAT, this report recommends a change to the guidelines that it uses to assess appeals—the ministerial directions.
Ministerial direction 65 and ministerial direction 63 need to be revised to ensure there's a greater focus on removing violent offenders and also to provide a greater role for the victims in the appeals process.
Under the current process, an offender gets to argue his case at the AAT, but the victims of his crimes are not invited. Decision-makers in the AAT can overturn the cancellation without having any understanding of the impact this will have on victims or their families. This can lead to further trauma for victims.
The best way to ensure decision-makers take into account the impact on victims is to give them a voice. The views of victims are critical and should be one of the primary considerations in deciding if a person is allowed to remain in Australia. This is particularly true in cases where the offender may pose a risk to the victim or their family, especially in family violence matters.
I have personally heard from victims and their families how these decisions can impact on them, and I feel their frustration at being left out of the appeals process.
Recommendation 6 in this report aims to ensure that victims have a voice at the AAT.
The committee also considered the efficacy of the merits review process and found that, on the whole, merits review is efficient. We do have some concerns, however, about the amount of time taken for the department to process revocation requests. As such, the committee has made a recommendation designed to speed up this process.
Another issue that arose during the inquiry was the impact of visa cancellations on New Zealanders in Australia. The committee heard that around 50 per cent of people who've had their visa cancelled on character grounds have been New Zealand citizens.
Most New Zealand citizens have been in Australia for many years and have never taken up Australian citizenship, because there was no incentive to do so in the past.
The committee agreed that decision-makers should be able to take this into account. However, it should be a secondary consideration, and New Zealand citizens who've committed violent crimes in Australia should not expect any leniency.
The provisions contained in sections 501 and 116 of the Migration Act are vital for protecting the Australian community from noncitizens who pose a threat to Australia's safety and the security of the Australian people.
The recommendations in this report look to strengthen the visa cancellations merits review process to ensure that its outcomes meet the expectations of Australians.
Can I make a very vital point here: I've noticed the Labor members have put a dissenting report in. My view is that the victim must be heard at the AAT's appeals process. It is absolutely unfair that, for a person who has a visa and who, for instance, could have violently assaulted an Australian citizen, sexually assaulted them or breached a family violence order and caused them great grief and pain, their victim's voice is never heard at the AAT. This needs to change, and I believe it's an absolute shame and disgrace for Labor Party members not to support the victims and simply allow them to have their voice heard at the AAT.
On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank all those who participated in the inquiry, by providing submissions and attending the public hearings.
I would also like to thank the deputy chair for her contribution to this inquiry and my committee colleagues for their efforts through this inquiry.
I commend the report to the House.
Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).
I'm pleased to be following the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. I want to, in the very little time that I have available to me, make some points about our inquiry into the efficacy of current regulation of the Australian migration agents.
This was a wide-ranging inquiry. It was also a timely inquiry, because it's always a good thing for the parliament to review the operations and the actions of migration agents. Generally, most of us as members of parliament will receive many complaints from our constituents about all sorts of things, but one of the more common complaints from constituents is around the negative experiences they've encountered at the hands of migration agents.
This was a very good inquiry, and it was an inquiry that also looked at the education agents. This was an introduction to the inquiry that very little examination has taken place in relation to education agents and how they operate. The international education industry is Australia's third-largest export sector and the country's leading service export sector. International students studying and living in Australia contribute some $30.3 billion to the Australian economy, and that was the figure for 2017.
International students generally engage the services of an education agent for a range of reasons, including travel, and assistance with options for studying and living in Australia. Education agents are contracted by the education providers and they're often used to recruit students on behalf of that education provider. Education agents are currently not regulated in Australia. During the inquiry, the committee received representations from a number of international students with evidence that alleged education agents were operating in an unlawful and unethical manner. These issues related to enrolment status, payments of enrolment fees and the processing of enrolment fees, payments of health insurance. Other areas of serious concern, I'd have to say, went to providing advice that certain courses of study have permanent migration pathways when they did not and they do not. These courses tended to be long and financially lucrative for the education agent and possibly the registered training college involved, but they were an economic burden to the international student who had been lured here virtually under the pretence that, if they did this, this was a pathway to permanent residency in Australia.
We heard anecdotal evidence that education agents, using their overseas businesses, were attempting to circumvent Australian migration regulations. As a result, those students who had the courage—we met with some of them in Sydney—came forward to give on-record evidence. I certainly spoke to them and so did the chair off the record. When they did find the courage to speak to us and raise concerns, they told us they were more often than not threatened. They were also threatened when they wanted to change courses, education providers or leave the country. So there is a very unsavoury thing going on in this space between education agents, international students and some colleges.
Another issue that was raised with us was that education agents who were not registered were also providing immigration advice. There was a very real fear by the students who had received this advice about complaining, because, more often than not, they were afraid it would impact on their visa application. So the committee agreed to examine the need to regulate education agents. The ones that were more difficult to pin down were the ones who were operating overseas.
At the end of the day, education providers are responsible for their education agents' actions, but the committee heard significant evidence that providers were not taking any responsibility whatsoever. International students had little consumer protection, and international education regulators and education providers did not provide any assistance to students who were affected. To address this, I draw the parliament's attention to recommendations 5, 6, 7 and 8, which, we believe, are recommendations that ensure education agents meet a set of requirements, including a government authorised training course and continued professional development.
The committee has also recommended the introduction of a sanctions structure using a demerit points system. I will end here, because I know we will have the opportunity to speak at greater length to both reports when they are referred to the Federation Chamber. I, too, wish to thank the chair and all members of the committee, including the secretariat.
On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I'm pleased to present the second report in its inquiry into the efficacy of current registration regulation of Australian migration agents and education agents.
Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).
by leave—Again, I would like to thank the secretariat—Pauline Cullen, the committee secretary; Emma Banyer, inquiry secretary; and Tanya Pratt, office manager—for the way they conducted the inquiries and for the professionalism they have always demonstrated dealing with me and my colleagues, and I know the opposition members feel the same way.
This inquiry was also referred to the committee by the Assistant Minister for Home Affairs on 14 March 2018. The inquiry focused on two particular issues—the integrity associated with the Malaysian ETA visa holders and issues concerning migration and education agents in Australia.
Corrupt and dishonest people operating here in Australia and Malaysia are targeting Malaysians wishing to work in Australia. These individuals are exploiting Australia's visa system and exploiting visa applicants with promises of work in Australia. There are also individuals who apply for an ETA under false pretences.
The committee acknowledges that the majority of ETA holders are compliant. However, it appears from the evidence that a disproportionate amount of Malaysian ETA visa holders are using the ETA visa as a means to find a way around our visa system. The committee heard that a significant amount of Malaysian ETA visa holders, upon arrival in Australia, are applying for a protection visa, obtaining work rights and exploiting the appeals process to stay in Australia for as long as eight years.
Over the last three years, the cost to the Australian taxpayer of the appeals process has been over $46 million.
To combat this, the committee has recommended establishing a fast tracked application and merits review process for Malaysian nationals on ETA visas who apply for a protection visa. In actual fact, this will apply to all those who apply for protection on ETA visas.
Can I just make a very important point here? In 2016-17, there were 26,247 Malaysian nationals who applied for protection so that they could remain in Australia. On the court appeal, only 168 have required protection. Once lodging a protection application, they are using the court system at a cost to the Australian taxpayer of $50 million. All they want to do is stay in Australia and by the time they are finished with the appeal system it can take up to eight years.
The government inquiry made recommendations to fast track these decisions and to not go through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal but instead use the Immigration Assessment Authority, which does not hold hearings and determines decisions based on documentation and within six weeks. To me, this is a very practical way of saving taxpayers' money and solving the issues. But, instead, the Labor members have put in a dissenting report, saying they'd rather see taxpayers fork out millions of dollars and allow overstaying Malaysian nationals who've falsely applied for protection visas to continue to remain in Australia for up to eight years.
The inquiry also examined the efficacy of migration and education agents in Australia, responding to concerns from the community about actions of some migration and education agents.
The committee acknowledges that the majority of agents are professional and provide an outstanding service but evidence of misconduct and fraudulent action by registered migration agents and education agents was apparent and the impact on their victims was significant.
Throughout the inquiry process, the committee heard evidence about agents taking advantage of vulnerable consumers. Witnesses told stories of migration agents:
Victims suffered considerable financial loss as a result of misconduct and fraudulent actions by registered and unregistered migration agents. The biggest concern throughout our inquiry was always the unregistered agents.
Some education agents had provided unlawful immigration assistance to international students regarding visas, sponsorships and permanent residence—they're simply not allowed to do that—and in some cases education agents were not passing on money to education providers.
One organisation reported that they had experienced regular instances of international students who had fallen victim to education agents. A lack of regulation enables them to operate without consequences as the relevant authorities have limited powers to take any action against them.
It is important that we protect the interests of migrants and international students in our visa system who are vulnerable to exploitation such as we saw during this inquiry. We need to consider mechanisms designed to take appropriate enforcement action against agents engaged in fraudulent or misleading practices.
The following key recommendations in this report are aimed at improving consumer protection and ensuring that Australia's registered migration agents and education agents are truly world-class providers of immigration and education assistance.
The committee's key recommendations for Australia's migration agent profession include a review of the current registration requirements for migration agents and proposing that all new migration agents be required to complete a period of supervised practice.
The committee also recommends for the education industry a range of recommendations designed to maintain scrutiny and protection. The recommendations include that education providers ensure that education agents are fully qualified before entering into a written agreement and that written agreements be reviewed once a year to ensure agents have completed a suitable number of professional development activities every year.
It is vital that Australia protect the integrity of its immigration system. The recommendations in this report will help protect the integrity of our visa system and maintain its credibility.
On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank those who participated in the inquiry, by providing submissions and attending the public hearings. Their input and insights greatly assisted the committee in shaping the recommendations contained in the report.
I would also like to thank the deputy chair for her contribution to this inquiry and my committee colleagues for their efforts throughout the inquiry process.
I commend the report to the House.