Immigration

'IELTS for sale': Whistleblowers reveal scam

There are serious allegations that the International language test necessary for many foreigners to study or work in Australia is being rorted, and the finger is being pointed at some members of the Vietnamese community.

Education is Australia's fourth biggest export industry, worth billions of dollars each year. And international students see education here as one of the best in the world.

For some, it's also viewed as an opportunity to then remain in Australia as a permanent resident.

So much so, some are allegedly prepared to illegally pay their way into the system.

Migration agent at 'Australia Connect Group', Ha Nguyen, said she has heard there are dodgy operators offering to fake IELTS certificates, at a price.

"The minimum is $5,000 and if you want a higher score, it'd be like $10,000, or $12,000,” said Ms Nguyen.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is used in more than 100 countries around the world and the minimum score for a student or skilled migrant visa applicant in Australia is generally around five.

To become a permanent resident, though, the score increases to about seven, and can sometimes by beyond a person's capability.

A Vietnamese university student who spoke to SBS News on condition of anonymity, said her friend made several unsuccessful attempts to pass the permanent residency test, and became desperate.

“So that's why she contact someone in Vietnam and they told her that if she pay the money, he can help her to get the “seven”.”

“She contact with one man, and they do the contract for her, and she signed the contract.”

The woman allegedly paid about $5000, but then withdrew out of fear.

“She was scared that … immigration find out that it's fake, then she need to go back to Vietnam forever and she doesn't want that.”

But there are claims others are paying a lot more.

A migration agent, who didn’t want to be identified, told SBS News the company she works for, which operates in Vietnam and Australia, offers a middle-man service for those willing to pay.

“If the client wants to work and migrate to Australia, we offer them the fake IELTS, yes,” she said.

“The price gets higher every day. And right now, I know it's about $12,000."

SBS Vietnamese journalist Olivia Nguyen said some foreigners see fake IELTS as their only option.

It is claimed students and workers were using the service.

“They find, fake certificates as the way to get the visa in Australia,” said Ms Nguyen.

“If you pay money, your results will appear online, on the global IELTS website.”

Ms Nguyen spoke to one student who confirmed the rort.

“Don't waste time on study,” the student told SBS.  “Instead of spending money on education, save money and time by buying a fake certificate.”

“The fake IELTS result report is made so carefully and delicately,” she claimed. “Even a normal IELTS teacher could not tell the difference.”

The student claimed it wasn’t hard to find an unscrupulous provider: several websites advertise fake IELTS.

Migration agent Ha Nguyen said it could be lucrative.

“If you get an "eight", it's like 20 points already, so it's already a third of your application.”

But she warned a good score doesn’t always guarantee an applicant will get a visa, as there are other requirements too.

Institutions, such as Melbourne University, have strict online verification methods.

In a statement, the university said it "requires all agents to supply certified documentation, particularly with regards to academic transcripts, completion statements and English results".

Service provider to 140 countries, IDP Education, said in a statement, "Given the high-stakes nature of the IELTS test, there will always be a small minority of people who seek to attain results they haven't earned".

Ms Ha Nguyen said there was still a way to verify someone's English proficiency.

“You can ask for a test interview; you can actually tell whether their English ability is compatible with their score or not,” she said.

“We did have some cases in the past when we interact with students and they give us a certificate but we don't think that it's quite compatible with their English skill.”

Official IELTS teacher, Minh Nguyen, said many of her international students, including those from China and India, struggled with English.

She said she had heard of fake providers, but said it was not worth the risk.

“At the end of the day, if you decided to come in here and study, you have to use the language, you have to merge with the environment, and that's what you can't fake,” she said.

The Immigration Department said an applicant's visa could be rejected or cancelled and it could impose a 10-year ban on future visa applications.