Australian visa applicants under the 457 temporary work visa might be faced with more strenuous checks and delays while their applications are being processed through migration agents.
This comes as institutions such as TAFE Sydney are being investigated for misappropriating funds, amounting to fraud, by paying migration agency commissions.
TAFE Sydney Institute is one of the largest education and training providers in Australia. The organization is now under investigation for fraud for the alleged misuse of millions of dollars from their training program for students on 457 visas. This visa allows skilled workers to travel to Australia and work for an approved sponsor for up to four years.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that an independent review of the integrity of the 457 visa program has indicated a need for the Australian 457 visa system to be urgently overhauled. The report stated that there exists a “high risk that some training providers are seeking to profit from this, particularly as the Department [of Immigration] has confirmed that it does not have the capacity … to ensure that contributions to these funds are being spent appropriately”.
According to Sydney Institute of TAFE financials, the organization deposited at least $3.3 million into its coffers last year. These funds were generated directly from migration agents who were in return paid $380,000 in commissions for recruiting students on 457 visas.
Allegations made by officers of the New South Wales Education Department stated that the funds generated were not being applied as it should have been. They claim that money received under the visa program, which is designated to be spent on training for Australians and permanent residents through student scholarships, was purposefully being used for other expenses – which included the payment of commissions to migration agents.
A spokesman for Assistant Minister for Immigration Michaelia Cash confirmed that the Immigration Department have received complaints and have launched investigations in to the allegations “in relation to contributions made by prospective sponsors of subclass 457 workers to a Sydney educational institution’s scholarship fund, which were intended to fund training for Australians”.
“The department’s investigation found no evidence of breaches under the Migration Act, however the allegations were referred to the Australian Skills Quality Authority, the body responsible for regulating vocational educational training, for further consideration,” the spokesman added.
Yet, based on an independent review of the 457 visa program, commissioned by the federal government, the Department of Immigration is “not adequately equipped to ensure employer contributions from 457 sponsors are being used appropriately”.
The same review also suggested that individual institutions “no longer be allowed to collect fees from employers. Instead, fees should be collected by government departments and spent on training programs for disadvantaged Australians” said the report.
But a professor from the Australian National University found that the Department of Immigration’s resources to examine alleged corruption were limited.
“We recommended this system be totally overhauled,” Professor McDonald said.
The NSW Department of Education claims that Sydney TAFE “has not provided training related to these funds as required and money has been used inappropriately to pay migration agent commissions.
The NSW Department of Education continues to claim that they are in possession of documents reflecting commissions to migration agents being paid from the same cost centre account that receives the sponsorship contributions for domestic student scholarships.
“This is effectively robbing Australians and permanent residents of training opportunities,” a government employee said.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that their source said more than $700,000 was spent last year on migration agent commissions, temporary staff and marketing and other services.
However, the department denies the allegations, saying migration agent commissions are paid from commercial revenue and floristry courses it offers are linked to horticulture.
“While 457 visa revenue and expenses are mapped to the same cost centre, they are recorded against different ledger codes to enable internal reporting,” a department spokesman said. “Commissions are paid from this commercial fund.”
Yet TAFE Sydney said it allocated 141 scholarships last year costing $153,625 and 47 in 2012, at $40,870.
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