The loophole foreign students are exploiting to stay here
Thousands of foreign nationals meant to be in Australia on short-term study visas are spending up to a decade in the workforce, with authorities powerless to stop the rort.
A Sunday Herald Sun investigation into student visas has discovered a system in crisis, with rejected international students spending up to five years appealing Department of Home Affairs decisions that they must leave.
While they wait for their appeals to be heard the rejected students are spending years on bridging visas, giving them unlimited work rights. Some of the most blatant rorts include:
- A Filipino woman who arrived in Australia in 2006 as a student and is fighting a decision to cancel her visa;
- An Indian student won three bridging visas despite no evidence of enrolments since 2017;
- A Nepalese man enrolled in five courses over 11 years before he was finally told to leave;
- A Chinese man still appealing a 2017 decision to revoke a visa he got using a fake degree.
There are now more than 10,000 students waiting for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review their cases, with the backlog blowing out migration hearing times to an average of 77 weeks.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said the government had "already taken action to help address the workload of the Migration and Refugee Division of the AAT, by appointing 33 additional members".
Another 11,000 migration matters - many of which are student visa appeals - are now clogging the Federal Circuit Court, blowing out average trial times to 18 months.
One Vietnamese "student" who arrived while John Howard was prime minister now has a four-year-old child born in Australia that could see her win permanent residency if she can delay her case until 2025. Children born in Australia to foreign nationals get citizenship at age 10.
There has been an explosion in student visa applications in the past three years, from about 375,000 in 2016-17 to more than 473,000 in the past financial year.
Less than 10 per cent of those are rejected, with the booming international student economy now worth $38 billion dollars a year to Australia.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the "overwhelming majority of international students come to Australia, conduct their studies and return home". But he said there had been more scrutiny of applications and thus more refusals. Many of those people make up the 216,000 foreigners with bridging visas.
Shadow home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said the "health of Australia's migration system is dire" and there was no plan to "stop the spread of exploitation of temporary workers and the slavery-like conditions that have become all too common across Australia".
Australia recently tightened restrictions on student visa applicants from India, Pakistan, and Nepal.
CASE 1 - FIVE YEARS OF APPEALS
Arrived 2008 from India
Six VET course diplomas or certificates
Visa application rejected April, 2015
Appeal at AAT rejected November, 2016
Federal Circuit Court appeal rejected September, 2019
Federal Court appeal rejected February, 2020
CASE 2 - THE CERT III HOARDER
Arrived in Australia 2007 from Vietnam
Held student or bridging visas ever since
Has 4-year-old born in Australia
Finished four Certificate III or IV qualifications and a diploma over eight years
Student visa refused in March, 2018
Review at AAT heard December, 2019
CASE 3 - TOO SICK TO FINISH DEGREES
Arrived in 2008 from Pakistan
Enrolled in multiple diplomas and degrees
Five significant periods without study "due to illness"
Visa refused 30 May, 2018
Decision reviewed December, 2019
CASE 4 - THREE ENROLMENTS, ZERO DEGREES
Arrived from India May, 2016
Dropped out of course in 2017
Enrolled in three diplomas but never completed one
Visa cancelled in March, 2018
Review heard in December, 2019.