International student “bottom feeders” scam visa system


In 2019, reports emerged about private ‘ghost colleges’ providing bogus qualifications to international students, particularly Indians.

“Indian students are being exploited to the hilt.. out of which a large proportion was from Punjab”, Chandigarh-based education agent Avtar Gill told SBS.

History never repeats but it sure does rhyme.

In May this year, a parliamentary inquiry heard evidence of private vocational education and training (VET) providers working with unregulated education agents to steal foreign students from prestigious universities for large commissions, to sell work visas, and to build “ghost colleges” where students do not attend classes but are awarded degrees.

Last week, The Age reported that these ‘ghost colleges’ were poaching thousands of international students from universities:


“On paper, this burgeoning industry is providing tens of thousands of international students with an education – particularly students from India and Nepal. In reality, many of the colleges are near deserted”, said University of Sydney academic Salvatore Babones.

“They are not genuinely studying. They are simply overpaying for a work visa”.

Experts like Babones believe the unprecedented explosion in international student numbers has made a mockery of Australia’s international education and migration systems:

Student Visas granted

Source: The Age


Ghost colleges have sprung up like mushrooms to capture a slice of the pie.

Across Melbourne, there are nearly 300 private vocational colleges, according to The Age. On Queen Street alone, there are 70 private colleges registered with the federal government.

“There is unacceptable behaviour and manipulation of the migration system by some private vocational colleges and dodgy agents”, said federal Labor MP Julian Hill.


Recent migrants are behind the proliferation of ghost colleges, providing fake qualifications to ‘students’ from their home countries seeking to work and live in Australia.

“[There are] an alarming number of private international colleges owned by recently arrived migrants who are taking advantage of students from their own culture”, International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood said.

You have to question whether some of these owners are motivated more by profit than by education as a public good”.


The AFR’s Julie Hare noted over the weekend that huge volumes of ‘students’ from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan are enrolling in dodgy vocational colleges as a means of accessing permanent migration.

“The college bottom feeder syndrome is threatening the reputation of the sector”, warned Honeywood.

“Dodgy providers are poaching students who often don’t want to be taught and are just using the system as an expensive means of accessing the workforce”.

Hare explains the scam as follows.

First, prospective migrants apply to study at a reputable university, which includes less scrutiny and faster processing from the Department of Home Affairs.

Second, they seek a second certificate of enrolment through the Education Department shortly after arriving, allowing them to study concurrently at a second institution. Or they obtain a certificate of release from their original university, generally alleging mental health difficulties.


Third, they depart and enrol in a low-cost ‘ghost college’ and find work. Others leave their initial university courses legally after just six months.

“This cohort of students are either interested in working full-time or in a faster, cheaper path to migration”, Dirk Mulder, an international education observer said.

Ravi Lochan Singh, a long-term education agent, also noted concern at the trends.


“Migration agents onshore are now advising arriving students to immediately apply for a new student visa for diploma and forget about the degree”, he said.

“Easy, since the visa is nearly always granted and sometimes within a day. No medicals are required, since the system already has it from the last lodgment”.

More than a decade ago, Australia saw a large increase in the number of Indian and Nepalese students enrolling in shady VET courses like hairdressing, many of whom went on to receive permanent residency.

Private colleges and agencies acted as ‘middlemen’ for Australia’s immigration system back then, as they do now, profiting from migrants abusing the student visa system.


Sadly, the Albanese Government has doubled-down on the scam by signing migration agreements with India that grants automatic five-year student visas and eight-year post-study work visas.

So, instead of clamping down on the rorting by lifting entry standards to courses, Albo’s Labor has instead opened the door even wider.

The end result will be lower wages and productivity, more competition for rental housing, and crush-loaded infrastructure.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.