Police have seized $8.5 million worth of assets, including a 2014 Ferrari, a 2015 Range Rover, six properties and $180,000 in cash; and arrested and charged three men with a series of offences relating to an alleged immigration racket involving Australia Post delivery drivers.
The raids across Melbourne yesterday led to the arrest of Baljit ‘Bobby’ Singh, Rakesh Kumar and Mukesh Sharma who now face charges of “defrauding the Commonwealth and falsifying documents including police checks and student records, in relation to two training colleges.”
“The AFP alleges St Stephen Institute of Technology, owned by Singh and Kumar, and Symbiosis Institute of Technical Education, owned by Sharma, are not providing education, but are in fact being used to source student visas for Indian students who then go to work as posties and parcel deliverers for Australia Post through Singh’s labour hire companies. The colleges charge international students fees of up to $10,000 despite allegedly not providing any training,” said the ABC report.
The AFP estimates that students were charged over $9 million in fees while the colleges claimed approximately $2 million in government funding because of their Registered Training Organisation status.
Australia Post management has been implicated and under questioning for contracting the company which apparently had ‘at least a hundred workers…about 60 of them being on student visas’ according to Joan Doyle, Victorian secretary of the posties’ union the CEPU. The company had 16 Auspost contracts, four of which the ABC estimates to be worth $60,000 a month.
The ABC reported that Australia Post has been previously warned about Mr Singh’s alleged underpayment of workers and use of student labour by the union for a number of years, although the company insisted that until now it had no evidence of significant wrongdoing.
Joan Doyle said the arrests raised questions about how Australia Post is monitoring its contractors and how Government money is being spent.
Following a series of stories by ABC’s 7.30 about underpayment of subcontracted delivery drivers by other labour hire companies, Australia Post announced it had broadened a compliance program for delivery contractors to include spot audits.
Many Australians have not been keeping up with the shift in Australia’s economy away from manufacturing and resources toward a high skilled service economy that is diversified. Australia’s migration policies over the last 2 decades has helped fill this gap “enabling structural changes to unfold relatively seamlessly and supplying the human capital needed for the expansion of technology driven sectors,” noted the MCA paper.
This paper analysed the latest ABS statistical information to gain an in-depth picture of how Australia’s migration program is performing and provides an overview of the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of recent Australian immigrants.
It concluded that, “English language proﬁciency is the primary determinant for migrants in the labour market, more important than both work experience and formal qualiﬁcations…improving English language proﬁciency is the single most effective method to increase the economic beneﬁt [for new migrants]”.
It notes that migrants with low or no language proﬁciency have historically faced a 10–20 per cent earnings gap. In contrast, the paper notes that newer migrants with very good English proﬁciency are thriving in the labour market, outperforming even their native English peers who have been in Australia for decades.
The report warned that the gap between those who can and those who cannot speak English well is growing as the economy prioritises skilled work and high tech service industries and noted that due to both skills and English language ability, there is growing gender disparity with female migrants lagging well behind.
Facilitated entry for frequent business travellers in the Asia-Pacific region will be even more convenient with the announcement by APEC that the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) will be extended from three to five years, effective 1 September 2015.
Under the revised arrangements applications lodged on or before 31 August 2015 will be granted an ABTC valid for three years and applications lodged on or after 1 September 2015 will be granted an ABTC valid for five years.
Through a single application, the ABTC will offer bona fide businesspeople a five-year, short-stay, multiple-entry visa to other participating member economies and priority lane access at major airports in APEC economies. The extension of validity of the ABTC will benefit business travellers who will not have to apply for a new card as frequently, with a resulting reduction in processing times.
Some employees of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection including the Australian Border Force, who are members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), will take part in protected industrial action at various work sites starting from 3 August 2015.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has given notice of work stoppages at all Department of Immigration and Border Protection work areas in all states, including international airports, client service centres, ports, container examination facilities and international mail facilities.
The Department has contingency arrangements in place to protect Australia’s borders and minimise the impact on business operations.
The Department is working closely with stakeholders to minimise the impact on the travelling public and on cargo and mail operations. We are ensuring appropriate contingencies are in place for visa and citizenship services, however, we strongly encourage passengers booked on international flights get to the airport early.
During protected industrial action, the health, safety and security of the public and our staff continues to be our priority.
The proposed enterprise agreement has been circulated to employees, and will be put to a vote as soon as the approvals required under the Australian Government Public Sector Workplace Bargaining Policy have been secured.
CPSU members will participate in a further stoppage of work:
Across Australia (except Brisbane and Northern Territory) – 8.30 am to 12.30 pm on 3 August 2015 Brisbane – 8 am to 12 pm on 3 August 2015.
Additional stoppages will also occur at international airports (local time):
3 August 2015 New South Wales
Sydney International Airport – 6 am to 10 am and 8 pm to 12 am
Melbourne International Airport – 7 am to 11 am
Brisbane International Airport – 6.30am to 10.30 am and 5 pm to 9 pm
Gold Coast Airport – 6 am to 10 am and 3 pm to 7 pm
Cairns International Airport – 4 am to 8 am and 4 pm to 8 pm
Adelaide Airport – 4.30 am to 8.30 am and 7 pm to 11 pm
Perth Airport (International terminal) – 5 am to 9 am
Darwin Airport – 4.30 am to 6.30 am
3 – 4 August 2015 Victoria
Melbourne International Airport – 9 pm on 3 August to 1 am on 4 August
Perth Airport (International terminal) – 9 pm on 3 August to 1 am on 4 August
In the last three years some 750 partner visas were cancelled. This number is set to rise with the launch of data-matching program by the departments of immigration and human services. Immigration and Human Services combined their respective customer databases to help uncover various types of fraud including those by couples who have lodged or been granted partner visas.
The system aims at identifying those taking welfare payments as singles, despite sponsoring overseas partners and will be looking at grants and applications from the years starting from 2012. DIBP granted 47,752 partner visas in the program year ending 2014.The biggest source nations were China, India, Britain, the Philippines, and Vietnam. These grants and other applications are now being checked against roughly seven million unique records in the Centrelink database. According to figures reported in the Herald Sun, in the last three years about 750 such visas have been cancelled for breaches of conditions, such as making bogus claims, providing incorrect information, and being of bad character.
Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said that the joint data-matching operation would detect partner visa frauds.
“Last year, my department identified an increase in the number of allegations relating to the facilitating of contrived marriages,” he said adding, “This data-matching program is part of a whole-of-government approach to fraud detection and prevention…“People who deliberately take advantage of Australia’s welfare and migration system will be caught.”
A report in itnews.com.au notes that under the Privacy Commissioner’s data matching rules, Immigration and DHS have to make the specifics of their data matching program public before it kicks off. The dataset will include all applicants for partner visas and their sponsors across the years 2012-13 to 2013-14.
What makes Australia the preferred destination for Chinese Travellers?
A survey of 3,000 Chinese international travellers by the Hotels.com accommodation booking website has found that more holidaymakers from China want to go to Australia over the next year than anywhere else. This is important news for Tourism Australia. The number of Chinese tourists in Australia surged some 19% over the last year, and they spent about AU$6 billion during their stay making them one of the most important markets for tourism, says Tourism Australia (TA) managing director John O’Sullivan.
Tourism Australia’s aim is to attract over 1 million Chinese visitors and see them spend at least AU$13 billion each year, by 2020. Given the latest figures, Mr O’Sullivan is confident it’s on track to do that.
“Over the last four years the Chinese market has been our fastest growing source of visitors to our country as well as the fastest growing in terms of value”, O’Sullivan told a tourism trade show in Shanghai citing that Chinese market has been (growing) at 18 percent on average in terms of both number of visitors and how much they spend in Australia. “Within the next two or three years, China will be our number one market in terms of number of visitors, as well the amount of money that Chinese visitors spend in Australia.”
In his eyes, the recently signed Tree Trade Agreement between the two countries has opened new opportunities. One is a 10-year multi-visit visa to be introduced for Chinese tourists from next year. Another is 5,000 holiday working visas a year as Australia grants, mainly to young backpackers, from many other countries. TA is also partnered with 5,000 Chinese travel agents, and has a marketing budget targeting China. Most recently, TA teamed with Chinese ecommerce company Alibaba to promote independent travel to Australia. O’Sullivan said entering a partnership with Alibaba is a coup for Australia. “I think the world has been astounded by the success of the Alibaba story, so for us it was a really important partnership,” he said.
Explaining the Chinese affection for Australia, Hotels.com’s regional director Katherine Cole told the ABC that “Australia ticks all the boxes when it comes to what Chinese travellers are looking for in a holiday destination, and those top things are safety, historical and heritage sites as well as cuisine.” However, the study found that Australia has an additional winning factor over those other destinations – what it terms “the power of g’day” – which is that Australia is rated the most welcoming country towards Chinese visitors. Aside from friendly locals, Ms Cole says hotels are increasingly going out of their way to make Chinese visitors feel welcome. “In a lot of cases, hotel chains are putting in Mandarin-speaking staff, or providing the Chinese newspaper, translating menus, ensuring that Chinese breakfast is available as 95 per cent of Chinese actually eat in hotel when they travel,” she said.
Gathering momentum recently is a petition in change.org to allow the holders of the now defunct retirement visa (sc410) to be considered for permanent resident visas.
Currently, the estimated 3000 holders of retirement visa have no rights to a permanent resident visa in Australia, regardless of how long they have been in Australia. A media release from BERIA, a voluntary organisation for retirement visa holders estimates that many its members have lived here for a long time with at least 100 retirees having lived here for over 20 years. David Humphries, Policy Adviser for BERIA, said that BERIA is mounting a direct campaign and petition asking that the Government allow retirement visa holders who have lived in Australia for at least 10 years to apply for permanent residency.
‘We believe that that this is a reasonable request,’ he said, ‘and totally in keeping with the spirit of the Australian notion of “a fair go”. Mr Humphries said BERIA has been campaigning for 8 years but has only received assurances from both sides of politics that retirement visa holders would be granted permanent residency. “But we’re no nearer achieving permanent residency than we were eight years ago. Politicians have been willing to give words of support, but unwilling to take action,” he said.
The main argument against permanent residency is the cost of health care to which most visa holders are not currently eligible. However, Mr Humphries argues that the Government has never balanced this cost against the additional tax benefits to Australia that permanent residency will bring. He says, “Currently retirement visa holders, do not pay Australian income tax on their overseas sourced incomes. As permanent residents they would pay Australian income tax on all their income and thereby increase Australian tax revenue. Nor has the Government considered the economic impact of the overseas-sourced funds still to be introduced into Australia by retirees over what remains of their lifetime.”
The sc410 has been replaced by the sc405 investor retirement visa which essentially grants applicants over 55 years of age who invest AU$750,000 in an Australian state a 4-year visa which is renewable – provided they have private health cover and an annual net income of $65,000. Like the defunct sc410, this visa provides no avenue to permanent residency in Australia.
We’ll start with a clue: it’s in Australia. A report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), studied and ranked the 362 regions of its 34 member nations according to nine measures of well-being.
The result had Australia at the top in the country-by-country rankings, followed by Norway, Canada, Sweden and the United States. However, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Turkey and Mexico were judged to be the hardest places to live among O.E.C.D. countries, and all 10 of the bottom regional rankings went to Mexican states.
The report states that there is a growing awareness that we must go beyond GDP and economic statistics to get a fuller understanding of how society is doing. But it is also crucial to zoom in on how life is lived.
“Where you live has an impact on your quality of life, and in return, you contribute to making your community a better place. Comparable measures of regional well-being offer a new way to gauge what policies work and can empower a community to act to achieve higher well-being for its citizens” noted the report.
Used in the report were nine measures: education, jobs, income (measured at purchasing power parity to correct for cost-of-living differences between countries), safety, health, environment, civic engagement, access to broadband and housing. Reviewing the report an article in the New York Times, hailed Canberra as the place for an easy life, stating,”[It’s] down under but way above them all.” The Australian Capital Territory led the regional rankings in the report, according to an average calculated by the New York Times. Five Australian states were also in the top 10.
“[The ACT outscored the rest of the country, including the states containing Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, on a number of measures, including education, income, jobs and health. (The O.E.C.D. did not measure access to beaches or world-famous opera houses.)”
Young Australians seem to have lost their love affair with technology with the number of graduates with ICT qualifications steadily falling since early 2000s, says a new report by the Australian Computer Society and Deloitte Access Economics. Should the trend continue, the next six years could see a record demand for overseas ICT workers given the steady growth of the technology sector and business demand for ICT workers.
Australia’s ICT industry employs around 600,000 workers. Interestingly enough, one of the biggest employers of ICT workers in Australia is the department of immigration (DIBP) with an estimated 1,600 ICT employees. However, the report notes even the DIBP finds it difficult to get the ICT staff it needs stating, ‘there are still a number of gaps in relation to the technical skills required within the organisation’.
With the government absorbing large numbers of ICT workers and the Silicon Valley companies drawing the best local graduates, private enterprise have been left to rely on ICT workers from overseas to fill the gap for over a decade now. The ACS has noted that Australia is just not creating enough graduates to meet business demand, and it’s becoming a massive problem forcing companies to turn to overseas skilled workers to meet business needs. There could well be an acute shortage of workers in the next few years.
The reports states that consultations with the business community suggest that there are shortages in skills such as programming and coding, computer science theory and computational thinking with businesses relying on overseas workers for key technical capabilities such as software development and programming. The report notes that Visa grants for temporary skilled migration of ICT workers have historically accounted for around 10–15% of total 457 visa grants. In the 2013–14 financial year, almost 12,000 ICT workers were granted 457 visas, representing 12% of total visas granted. This year it is expected to increase with the occupational ceilings raised for several ICT related occupations. The report suggests that the reliance on overseas workers will have to continue unless there is a shift in the basic school curriculum and the attitude of the government and businesses in order to get Australian youth interested in the sector and workers continuously trained to perform the specialised and ever-changing demands and tasks. The report indicates that the current emphasis in the education system, policy settings and business practices are all insufficient to build the interest of youth in technology or equip local workers with the required skills.
Businesses in the Northern Territory have slammed the Federal Government for unnecessary delays and red tape which they say is affecting the ability of businesses to get the skilled foreign workers they urgently need.
In February 2014, the Federal Government announced an independent review of the 457 visa worker program and then in May relaxed the English language competency requirement for foreign workers.
It was hoped foreign workers would be more willing to move to Darwin. According to an ABC report, months later 17 NT businesses have been endorsed by the NT Department of Business to apply for DAMAs. But only three DAMAs have been granted.
“When the process is started, you can’t get any response out of them” the Northern Territory’s Australian Hotel’s Association CEO Des Crowe told the ABC. “Initially we were quite enthusiastic when it was introduced last year but we’ve had quite a few difficulties with the process,” adding that mistakes such as typos and spelling errors could make an application void. He said that has had “major problems’ dealing with the DIBP
He said its ‘red tape gone mad’ when it comes to dealing with the department of immigration. Despite using an RMA, he told the ABC that the process of applying for the workers and meeting the paperwork requirements was exhausting. Chamber of Commerce NT chief executive Greg Bicknell said the DAMA program was key to developing the north but said there were “a lot of hoops” for businesses to jump through.
“They’ve got to test the local labour market. They’ve got to be contributing to the cost of training in the local area. Then there’s the skills of the person that have to be verified,” he said. He said the paperwork could be too onerous for “small dynamic businesses” that have few back office staff and the paper work could take months. “It’s very difficult to find staff in the Northern Territory right now. “We require a large population to sustain better business development.”