Australia’s visa system is among one of the
most overregulated ones in migrant hosting
countries and this makes it almost i kimpossible to
believe that corruption and bribery
has penetrated into its functioning systems.
Amid a debatable political dispute between Scott Morrison, Prime Minister, and Bill Shorten, the Opposition Leader, over Australian border integrity, the news of bribery in Australia’s visa system has added an extra hot spice to the clash and this is followed by the Department of Home Affairs’ action to launch a probe into claims. The news is magnifying re-grant of visa to criminals who could be potentially dangerous to the society. According to the articles published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have revealed criminals are using an opaque process to have their mandatory visa cancellations overturned by Department of Home Affairs officials, the minister or assistant minister.
Over the past three years, hundreds of foreign criminals have been handed back their cancelled visas while restoration of a visa cancelled under section 501 of the Migration Act can only be made by the minister, their assistant minister or a departmental official exercising delegated ministerial power; a statement that has been allegedly denied by the officials.
This breaking news is questioning government over the infamous story of William Sualauvi Betham. Mr. Betham, who was the citizen of New Zealand, was jailed for more than 10 years in 2008 and had his visa cancelled for his involvement in a drug-trafficking syndicate – but he is now living it up on the Gold Coast as a free man. According to Queensland Supreme Court judge Peter Dutney said Betham had played a key role in the drug trafficking over a period of 16 months in 2002 and 2003. While he was in prison, he was telling prisoners about his ‘connections’ helping him. His visa was cancelled by the government in June 2016 and he was transferred to the Christmas Island immigration detention centre ahead of potential deportation to his home state of New Zealand. But was later handed back his visa and released in 2017. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has powers to overturn visa cancellations but says he did not do it in the case of William Betham. Mr Dutton has exercised his ministerial discretion to cancel the visas of dozens of foreign nationals living in Australia on character grounds under section 501 of the Migration Act, mostly for serious offences such as child sex abuse, murder and organised crime.
Betham was among 640 non-citizens whose visas were cancelled automatically after serving jail time for serious crimes. Almost one-third got their visas back after lodging an appeal with the department within 28 days. While some restorations are obtained through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or Federal Court, others like Betham’s are assessed within the Department of Home Affairs and the decisions never made public.
Reflecting on the aftermath of this scandalous news, Mr. Harpal Bajwa, from Viva Immigration, has explained that “the vulnerability of Australia’s visa system to bribery has unfortunately given an unpleasant shock to all those highly qualified skilled applicants who have to wait for an indefinite amount of time for their applications to be processed, and this condition not only affects the applicant personally but also puts the whole family under excruciating mental pressure.