While the federal government is cracking down on immigration, as evidenced by the shake-up of the 457 visa and tighter conditions on skilled migration, it is doing so at the expense of police checks on foreign workers.
Alex Kaufman, head of migration at specialist law firm FCB Smart Visa, told My Business that there are not even any restrictions on foreign migrants attempting to relocate to Australia from countries deemed to be high-risk.
“As counter-intuitive as it sounds, that is correct, with the exception of Australian Federal Police clearances, which under [the] policy can be requested,” said Mr Kaufman.
“Certainly, in order to give meaningful effect to priority processing arrangements for accredited sponsors, the government has seen fit to allow a sponsor to vouch for the character of one of their nominees in order to, obviously save time, and to obviate the need for them to get a police clearance from that jurisdiction, which is very handy for some [countries] – South Africa, for example, and the [US] FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] for non-citizens can take many months to obtain.”
Asked if that is potentially a government oversight given the potential vulnerability, Mr Kaufman agreed that it could be an “ill-conceived” attempt to speed up the visa application process.
“Given the machinations of policy over the last year-and-a-half, it does stand out as being perhaps overly generous or potentially ill-conceived or perhaps not as qualified as it could be,” he said.
“I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any exceptions for countries that might be considered extremely high risk.
“We have applicants from war-torn territories, territories with civil unrest, territories that are generally considered to be hotbeds of terrorist activity that apparently are able to be waived through at the behest of a sponsor, over and above the heads of ASIO, for example.”
Mr Kaufman added: “I haven’t seen or heard of any attempts to curtail that.”
The penalties or “sanctions” for bringing in a foreign worker who turns out to have a past criminal record also appear fairly weak.
“Sanctions do apply. So removal of their accredited status could occur if it was subsequently discovered that the nominee did in fact have a criminal record,” he explained.
“[But] no such sanctions are able to apply in law where someone subsequently breaks the law in Australia after the visa is granted. It’s not an indemnity, if you like, on the conduct of that person once the visa is approved.”
The Department of Home Affairs website confirms that police checks are no longer required.
“Applicants who are sponsored by an accredited sponsor, are not required to obtain police certificates from countries other than Australia provided they attach a written reference from their accredited sponsor confirming that they are of good character and have not been convicted of any criminal offences,” it states (emphasis theirs).
“The applicants must still, however, provide any required Australian police clearances where applicable or when requested to do so.”
The visa scheme falls under the remit of new Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs David Coleman, when new Prime Minister Scott Morrison separated immigration from the Department of Home Affairs as part of his cabinet reshuffle after last month’s deposing of Malcolm Turnbull as leader.
Neither Minister Coleman’s office and the Department for Home Affairs – which oversaw the introduction of these rules – responded to requests for comment.