Australia’s partner visa programme could be tightened after a sham marriage scam was uncovered where a couple made more than $100,000 from men wanting to stay in the country.
Migrant agent Chetan Mashru and his marriage celebrant wife Divya Gowda have been jailed for running the marriage visa scam which charged Indian men up to $40,000 for marriages to Australian women to help them stay in the country.
A court in Brisbane was told that a total of 16 marriages were organised where the men and women signed marriage papers on their first meeting.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that his department will continue to look at the partner visa programme to see if it needs reform and will listen to suggestions, although no immediate plans have been announced.
Nearly 50,000 foreign spouses, fiancees and other partners move to Australia each year with partner visas accounting for a quarter of the total migrant intake. There are currently 70,000 applications in the pipeline.
A cap has now been put on the number that will be granted per year and Dutton revealed that
519 partner visas were cancelled over the past two years but he confirmed that numbers granted are rising, from 39,931 in 2007/2008 to 47,825 last year with the majority coming from China, India and Vietnam.
Demographer Dr Bob Birrell of the Australian Population Research Institute, believes the visa programme can be tightened and pointed out countries like the UK where it is much harder to get a visa.
In Australia partners can be as young as 16 and their sponsor does not need to have a job. But in the UK sponsors and their partners must be at least 21 to apply for a visa and earn at least $30,145 if living outside Europe.
Birrell pointed out that in Australia the sponsored spouses or the sponsor make no contribution whatsoever to the cost of the public facilities they’re going to need once they get to the country.
‘In other words, it’s a free ticket to enjoy our lifestyle, so it’s not surprising we are getting a very high number of applications, including about 8,000 former foreign students every year who manage to find a sponsor,’ he added.
Pauline Hanson, leader of the One Nation party, wants the visa stream tightened. She said her constituents had raised concerns about cases where foreign students had married Australian citizens and then ended the relationships after obtaining visas.
Dutton said the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) had already strengthened the spousal visa programme and would continue with its policy of having no tolerance for visa fraud.
‘We are open to looking at any sensible ideas that will help stamp out corruption,’ he added.