Just one mistake on your Australian visa application could carry “devastating” lifetime consequences, experts say, under new regulations introduced by the Federal Government this month.
Anyone who submits false or misleading material as part of a visa application – even unwittingly – faces being effectively barred from making a new application for 10 years. The previous penalty was just 12 months.
The material targeted includes inaccurate statements, omissions of fact, or lodging bogus documents such as bank records, work experience claims or false English language proficiency scores.
“[It] would have quite a devastating impact on any migrant who breached their rule of perfection in any manner whatsoever,” said Mary Crock, an immigration law specialist at the University of Sydney.
“If you’re denied that long then it’s going to become impossible to come to the country.”
New penalties for visa applicants ‘too harsh’
An application lodged since November 18 may now be refused if fraud was detected on any earlier application made within the previous 10 years.
This replaces a 12-month period that had applied to those who withdrew their application once notified of suspected fraud – a way to avoid a potential three-year ban if that visa was subsequently refused.
The measure covers a range of temporary visa classes, including student visas, family visas and skilled migration classes, as well as any applications made by members of a person’s family.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the longer time frame was designed to target fraudsters who actively “wait out” the year-long exclusion period before trying again.
Little room for error
The Greens will next week seek support to overturn the new measures in the Upper House, branding them another front in the Immigration Minister’s “relentless attack” on migrant groups including temporary visa holders.
“This is a punitive and vindictive proposal from Peter Dutton that really is cracking a walnut with a massive sledgehammer,” Senator Nick McKim told SBS News.
Greens Senator Nick McKim. (AAP)
Professor Crock said applicants negotiating Australia’s increasingly complex migration system already have little room for error. They would also face the penalty “even if they were unaware that a false document is being put in on their behalf,” she said.
“Where an individual has been affected by the fraud of a migration agent, for example, these regulations will now operate to bar them from making a valid application to come to Australia for 10 years,” she said.
Melbourne-based migration agent Jujhar Singh Bajwa said the changes were a “very good step” by the department to crack down on instances of fraud.
But, he said, they were also “very harsh” on those who make a simple mistake or unwittingly entrust the process to an unscrupulous agent, often those operating offshore.
“They tell the client what documents they require and then the trouble starts,” he said.
“Most [applicants] have no idea like what documents they need to submit, especially when it comes to the financial documents.”
Changes are ‘unfair’
An Indian national, who spoke to SBS World News on the condition of anonymity, said he withdrew an application last year when the department detected a suspect work experience document.
“It just was said by my agent that ‘if you put it, it will get assessed quickly’, so I said ‘okay, I’m fine with that’”, he said.
Now awaiting a 457 visa lodged in time to only attract the 12-month penalty, he is concerned the new 10-year ban would nonetheless make any future bid for permanent residency impossible.
“It’s maybe fair for [those] who genuinely did the wrong thing but it will be unfair for [those] who don’t know this mistake and someone else did for you,” he said.
A Department of Immigration spokesperson said the 10-year review period was “a necessary, reasonable and proportionate measure to protect the integrity of the visa framework”.
“It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure the documents and information in the visa application is truthful, even if a Migration Agent or third party is acting on their behalf,” the spokesman said.
“Decision makers can take into account whether or not the visa applicant deliberately submitted fraudulent documents.”
The department said applicants were given an opportunity “to comment on any adverse information that may lead to visa refusal.”
If a visa application is refused, an applicant can also seek a review of the decision through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.