The potential for corruption of the 457 visa program by education and training institutions has resulted in calls for change, including a comprehensive overhaul of the entire system.
According to an independent integrity review, the 457 visa program is prone to manipulation by unscrupulous providers who seek to profit from migrants. The visa allows skilled workers to stay in Australia for four years under the supervision of an approved sponsor.
In 2013 alone, $3.3 million was generated by Sydney TAFE via migration agents, who are offered a 15% commission, and misappropriation of funds has been suggested. The problem is exacerbated due to a lack of cohesive data, along with insufficient information provided to The Department of Immigration for adequate monitoring of the situation. The allegations directed toward Sydney TAFE have been confirmed by Michaelia Cash, the Assistant Immigration Minister.
Money received by education institutions from the visa program is supposed to fund student scholarships for Australians and permanent residents, including the disadvantaged. However, there is concern that money is being siphoned off for alternative purposes including migration agent commissions, according to a NSW Department of Education officer. Although the department denies the claim, the situation has resulted in an investigation by the federal government.
Resolution of the situation is being hampered by a lack of transparency between regulatory authorities, with the Australian Skills Quality Authority stating that the allegations are “not within its jurisdiction.” The independent review, which was commissioned by the federal government, also found the Department of Immigration unequipped to guarantee appropriate use of 457 visa program funds. It recommends fees collected should be controlled by government departments rather than individual educational institutions.
According to Professor Peter McDonald, of the Australian National University, the Department of Immigration has limited scope to examine corruption. “We recommended this system be totally overhauled,” Professor McDonald said. Government guidelines state that training institutions are required to contribute funding for training within the industry employing the 457 visa holder.
The situation has arisen, in part, due to the huge range of courses offered by TAFE providers. Migrant sponsors are required to provide contributions toward TAFE courses within their industry. However, some migrants are employed in occupations with barely tenuous connection to courses offered by TAFE. For example, Sydney TAFE accepts contributions from horticulture employer sponsors, although the only Sydney TAFE course remotely connected to horticulture studies is a floristry course.
A spokesman from The Department of Education defended the process, claiming the floristry courses “imported three levels of competence from the horticulture training package.” Some department officers are not convinced that government requirements are being fulfilled, with one government employee stating that Australians are being robbed of training opportunities. NSW Department of Education sources state that migration agent commissions for 457 visas are inappropriate.
John Kaye, NSW Greens MP, noted that government funding for Sydney TAFE was reduced by $4 million between 2011 and 2012, and the temptation to divert funds contributed to the 457 account is “hardly surprising.”