Australia’s immigration department has become aware of fraudulent student visa applications submitted via agents from regions of India, exacerbating the country’s visa backlog crisis.
Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, told The PIE News that Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, which oversees immigration, has recently been “concerned about applications involving fraudulent documents originating from certain states in India”.
One Indian agent told The Indian Express newspaper in June that the DHA detected approximately 600 fraud cases from the Haryana and Punjab regions of India that had been submitted via agents.
“Their response has been to cast a more forensic lens over all Indian student applications and this has certainly created delays in the time being taken to process student visas out of that key market,” Honeywood said.
Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia, said that the body was “aware of this matter and understand it to be occurring across all educational sectors, not just Australia’s universities”.
Similarly, Troy Williams, chief executive of Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia, said that “the matter of fraudulent visa applications has been referred to ITECA” but that “the incidence of this is very low”.
“The low-level of fraudulent applications are being driven by unscrupulous student agents”
Williams noted that more than half of Australia’s international students study with independent skills and education providers and that the referral was made within this context.
“It would appear that the low-level of fraudulent applications are being driven by unscrupulous student agents that are not only targeting those wishing to study in Australia, but also North America and Western Europe,” Williams said.
“ITECA urges students to be diligent in selecting an agent and to select only those that have a long track record of placing students with ITECA members,” Williams added.
The DHA would not confirm or deny whether it was scrutinising applications more closely but told The PIE that it “works closely with all education sectors to ensure the quality of international education in Australia is maintained and to support providers to attract genuine students”.
The Australian High Commission in India has now contacted Indian agents and asked them to sign a code of conduct, according to Honeywood.
“As Australia has traditionally relied more heavily than most on education agent auspiced visa applications, we are at least able to quickly identify where falsified documents are being used by a particular agency,” Honeywood said.
“We are optimistic that this unfortunate situation will be rectified very soon.”