The underbelly of Australia’s International Education Industry
Protecting the Rights of International Students
by Mark Glazbrook
Australia’s international education market is about a $15 Billion a year Industry in Australia, yet it is affected with rampant breaches, rorts and illegal activity.
Under Australian law, anyone who uses knowledge of Australian migration procedures to offer immigration assistance to a person wishing to obtain a visa to enter or remain in Australia must be registered, unless they are exempt by law from registration.
Despite this being contained in the migration regulations, clearly stated on the Immigration Department website and within the online application form for international students many education agents here and overseas are knowingly and deliberately breaking the law.
The most concerning fact about this is that many education providers including Australian Universities continue to accept enrolments from education agents who are also lodging student visa applications on behalf of international students enrolled at these educational institutions. In Australia, this is illegal.
It is shocking that Australian education providers approved under the Federal Governments ESOS Act are endorsing unregistered migration assistance, where this is clearly breaking Australian law.
The Departmental website states “Unregistered people are breaking the law and penalties of up to 10 years jail can apply.”
Despite this unregistered activity by some education agents, the Department and education providers are happy to accept visa applications and students procured through the provision of unregistered migration activity. I suppose it is easy to turn a blind eye to this activity where some education providers stand to gain up to $100,000 or more per international student.
Education agents also receive large commissions from education providers based on a student obtaining a student visa and commencing a course of study with a particular provider.
This brings into question the moral and ethical activity of some education agents who will only place students into the programs where they obtain the highest commission with little or no regard for the best interest or educational outcome for the student.
Every week I meet with international students who have been enrolled into a course which is entirely inconsistent with their background or with the course of study that they wanted to undertake in Australia.
In many cases education agents are committing fraud against the Australian Immigration Department by providing false and misleading documents and information to the Australian Government. Without doubt this brings Australia’s international educational sector into disrepute, negatively impacting the integrity of the Australian international education industry and Australia’s Immigration Department.
This also has a detrimental affect on the migration profession, as many students do not understand the difference between a genuine migration agent registered with the Migration Agents Registration Authority, or someone who is unregistered.
A registered migration agent generally spends between $10,000 to $15,000 on completing a post graduate qualification to become a registered migration agent, annual migration agent registration fees payable to the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) are in the vicinity of $1600.00, membership with the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA) is approximately $350.00, a subscription to ‘LEGENDcom,’ which is an electronic database of Migration and Citizenship legislation and policy documents starts at $800.00, plus professional indemnity insurance around $600.00 per year.
On top of this migration agents must complete continuing professional development courses (CPD), achieving 10 points per year, which can cost between $500.00 to $1,000.00, even more if you travel interstate to attend high quality CPD’s.
Being registered with the OMARA also means that as a migration agent I am bound by a strict Code of Conduct.
I am required to have separate trading and client bank accounts. I am also required to disclose whether I receive commissions for referrals and if any person that I assist with a visa application is unhappy with my professionalism, visa outcomes, fees or any other aspect of my professional services – a complaint can be made by the visa applicant, the immigration department or any other person. Any complaint is then rigorously investigated by the OMARA who can either dismiss the complaint, caution an agent, or even suspend or deregister the migration agent, depending on the severity of the matter.
On the other hand if someone wants to become an education agent, there are no mandatory requirements, no entry level qualifications, no ongoing professional development programs, no requirement to have access to legislation, no previous experience needed, no obligations to clients, no requirements to have separate auditable bank accounts, no requirement to disclose commissions paid by education providers and no accountability if something goes wrong, leaving absolutely no protection at all for prospective international students.
Earlier this year I met with a family who successfully achieved permanent residency in Australia. They have an adult son who did not want to permanently migrate to Australia and is now seeking to improve his qualifications and future employment and career opportunities by studying in Australia.
The family approached a South Australian University and obtained a Certificate of Enrolment (COE). The application to the University had to be made through one of their approved and endorsed education agents.
When the enrolment was obtained the education agent then lodged a student visa application on behalf of the student to the immigration department.
In this instance the course was entirely relevant to what the student wanted to study and upon completion of this course the student would have had excellent employment and career opportunities back in his home country.
Regrettably, however, the student visa was refused. Upon reviewing the case and the Departmental refusal letter it could be seen that the grounds for refusal was due to insufficient information being provided to the immigration department in support of the visa application.
It was just a very bad student visa application that was lacking critical information required by the department, information that a registered migration agent would have know about.
This led to the case officer stating that they did not believe that the student was a genuine student as information provided in the application was unable to satisfy the case officer that the student met the relevant guidelines for the grant of the visa.
Upon speaking with the family of the student, I advised them that I could assist them with a fresh visa application so their son could study in Australia and that they would need new evidence of enrolment in a course.
Upon approaching the same University who previously accepted him into one of their courses, they advised that they would not offer him a new enrolment as the immigration department had previously found that he was not a genuine student.
This is very unfair as the reason the visa was refused is that one of the universities own accredited and endorsed education agents lodged a very poor student visa application. This application was made on behalf of the student despite the agent being unregistered and not possessing adequate profession knowledge about the type of basic information required by the department in support of an application to demonstrate the genuineness of the student.
There is no doubt that international students and their families are being misled by education agents and some Australian education providers.
Many believe that education agents are legally and lawfully able to lodge student visa applications as these education agents are endorsed by Australian educational institutions.
In the case of the student at the South Australian University, what led to the Departments’ refusal was the limited information and knowledge known about how to prepare and lodge a complete student visa application. Following the advice that they wouldn’t accept him into a new program I wrote to the University and expressed my concern and stated that the student should not be significantly disadvantaged due to the actions of an unregistered person, endorsed by the university.
It comes as no surprise that my questions and requests to this University remain not answered.
Despite many education agents breaking the law and these activities being endorsed by Australian education providers, nothing is being done to protect the rights and interests of vulnerable international students.
In fairness, I should also ad that this type of activity is not just an issue of unregistered migration agents, there are registered migration agents who are also education agents who knowingly rort the system and provide false and misleading advice to international students in order to obtain commissions or referral fees from education providers even where such action means that international students are in breach of student visa conditions which can lead to the cancellation of their visa.
I just don’t understand how there can be so little protection given to international students considering this is a $15 Billion a year industry in Australia.