Last week, a group of academics released a report, entitled Temporary Graduatification, which sounded the alarm over the exposure of international student graduates to unscrupulous migration agents:
… many international students who want to stay on and apply for the 485 [Graduate] visa are vulnerable to being exploited by a growing number of ‘dodgy’ agents who – despite the fact that applying for the 485 visa is an easy and straightforward process – proceed to charge high fees to assist them with their applications.
The interviews also revealed how some education and migration agents provided advice on undertaking further courses to gain points for PR. This leads to a number of questionable motives as some migration agents have been known to earn commissions from education providers based on the enrolment of their clients. Moreover, it was also claimed that the recommended courses by migration agents did not necessarily match or suit the professional needs of international students and graduates.
Due the complexity of the migration law in Australia and its constantly changing nature, international students and graduates often resort to migration agent services to get immigration advice and assistance. Short consultations with migration agents, in some cases, create more confusion and precarity than clarity in order to encourage their clients to use their services.
Many of these agents can be aggressive in their recruitment of international students. They not only hover around institutions but hunt for their international student/graduates-clients on multiple social medial channels. They advertise themselves on social media, especially Facebook pages of associations of international students from specific countries. Various Facebook groups
have been established by international students and graduates or agents themselves to discuss the application of temporary graduate visa, for example “Assistance with 485 visa application” or “Seeking PR in Australia” Facebook groups. Some agents search through these groups for posts or queries related to the 485 visa and lure these international students or graduates to use their services. Some even advertised as having “real employers to sponsor you”. The agents we interviewed expressed concerns that illegitimate agents, who exploit this cohort of international graduates or international students interested in post-study work opportunities in Australia, are damaging the reputation of the agent sector….
It is not just migration agents causing problems. A recent strategic review into international education by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) found that unregulated education agents were behind around three-quarters of international student enrolments and were routinely misinforming, misleading and exploiting vulnerable students:
There is no legal requirement under Australian law for providers or overseas students to engage an agent, but most do—agents facilitated almost 74 per cent of the total overseas student enrolments in 2017… education agents are a non-regulated sector and there are no official registration processes for becoming an education agent…
The desire to pursue paid employment opportunities, even in breach of their visa conditions, is likely to motivate some students and introduces the risk that some providers and agents will seek to exploit this demand and recruit these overseas students using misleading and unethical practices.
Overseas students rely heavily on the assistance of education agents when making decisions and can lack reliable information to hold their providers and education agents to account. This dependence makes overseas students vulnerable to being misinformed, misled and, in the worst circumstances, open to exploitation…
Many education agents operate from foreign countries. There is no government regulatory oversight of education agents, and the quality of the services provided by agents is reliant on individual providers systematically monitoring the practices of their agents. This lack of oversight can make overseas students vulnerable to poor practices, including misleading marketing and advertising, by providers and agents that deliberately evade their obligations.
February’s Joint Parliamentary Inquiry into efficacy of current regulation of Australian migration and education agents also accused “unscrupulous, unlawful and unethical” education agents of conning international students and Australia’s visa system. In particular, agents were claimed to be misleading students on migration pathways and working rights, as well as pushing them into inappropriate courses that pay higher commissions, leaving students “substantially out of pocket after being exploited”.
The underlying driver of this rot is that Australia’s education industry has sought to expand international student enrolments by entering markets where document fraud and cheating is commonplace. As noted by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption:
In the search for international students, some universities in NSW are entering markets where document fraud and cheating on English-language proficiency tests are known to exist. They are using large numbers of local intermediaries – sometimes more than 200 agents – to market to and recruit students, resulting in due diligence and control challenges…
False entry qualifications, cheating on English-language proficiency tests, essay mills selling assignments, plagiarism, cheating in university exams and paying others to sit exams are reportedly common.
The pressures within universities are also conductive to corruption.
In other words, Australia’s education industry is facilitating the rorting, aided and abetted by dodgy agents.