Investigations

Exclusive: More than 500 visa scams a year are being reported in Australia

Nour Al Abssi, left, and her family were the victims of an Australian visa scam exposed by SBS earlier this year. Source: Supplied

More than 2,700 visa scam allegations have been reported to the Australian government since 2014, but an immigration lawyer says many more could be going unreported.

The Home Affairs department’s migration fraud division has received 2,796 visa scam-related allegations in the past five years, SBS News can reveal.

But immigration experts say it's likely many more are going under the radar.  

The figure was obtained from the department under Freedom of Information laws and although it was not broken down by year, shows the number of alleged scams from 1 July 2014 to September of this year.

Senior immigration lawyer Sanmati Verma from Victoria-based firm Clothier Anderson, says the lack of meaningful protections for visa holders and applicants who have been affected by fraudulent migration advice means there is a lack of incentive to report. 

“The Department of Home Affairs does not offer a solution or any visa security if a person's visa has been refused or cancelled due to fraud," she says.

“So in situations like this, the first priority is to secure their visa status rather than pursue a complaint - that is simply not going to restore them into the position they would be in if the fraud was not committed."

Victims targeted offshore

The Department of Home Affairs also revealed its Border Watch division has received 56 reports of unauthorised immigration assistance scams involving people offshore applying for a visa through an authorised person(s) based in Australia in the same time period. 

An SBS News and Arabic 24 investigation revealed in September that Melbourne man Mounzer Kheder had received more than $9,500 from a family who had fled war-torn Syria and were living in Saudi Arabia, after meeting them on Facebook and promising he could help them with their Australian visa applications.  

Mr Kheder, who is an Australian citizen, falsely held himself out to be a Labor MP and told Nour Al Abssi and her family it was through his connections to the Australian parliament that he was able to expedite their application. He was not a registered migration agent. 

When contacted by SBS, Mr Kheder admitted taking money from the Al Abssi family but denied doing anything wrong.

The family remains in Saudi Arabia without visas. 

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Family duped by Melbourne man in online visa scam
Family duped by Melbourne man in online visa scam

Ms Verma believes the number of complaints of this kind is particularly low because of the circumstances many offshore visa applicants are typically in.

“If people are in such a vulnerable position that they are unable to do their due diligence on someone who just pops up on their LinkedIn or Facebook profile, and they are vulnerable enough to trust that person with their immigration business, it's of little surprise they would know how and where to contact the right department and file a complaint.”

“Migration is an extremely lucrative business. I think the Australian economy benefits from it in many ways and at almost every stage of the migration process. 

"Fairness demands there would be an equivalent investment on some sort of a safety net for migrants, whether that means a pool of funds available to victims of visa fraud is set aside to provide them with independent advice on how to remedy their situation or otherwise pursue a fresh application." 

Home Affairs did not respond to a request for further comment on the protections in place for people affected by visa scam-related allegations in Australia or the suggestion the total number is likely to be much larger than those reported to the department, instead referring people to its Border Watch website. 

Border Watch encourages people to report unlawful operators and says all submissions received are acted on.

The department does not provide the complainant with information on the progress or outcome of its investigations due to privacy reasons. 

Have you been affected by a visa scam in Australia and would like to share your story? Contact Lin.Evlin@sbs.com.au or linevlin@protonmail.com (secure email). 

To report a visa scam, use the Border Watch Online Report. The ACCC's Scamwatch also provides a scam reporting service.

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