The Australian High Commission in New Delhi has issued a stern warning to Indian visa applicants, after an alleged fake marriage syndicate was busted in New South Wales earlier this month.
The visa scam marriage syndicate was uncovered as part of a long-running operation undertaken by the Australian Border Force (ABF) and resulted in the 32 year-old Indian national, Jagjit Singh, who is thought to be the mastermind behind the scheme.
The ABF investigation also resulted in the visa cancellation or application refusal of 164 Indian nationals who were found to have links to the alleged marriage scam.
According to the Australian High Commission, none of the now-refused visa applicants would have been able to secure Australian permanent residency via the scam, despite the significant financial contributions made to the syndicate.
“While contrived marriages are not unique to any one nationality, this particular syndicate was attempting to illegally facilitate fake marriages with non-citizens in the South Asian community,” the High Commission said.
Additional charges have also been levelled against four Australian citizens—all women in their 20s—who have been accused of attempting to convince various individuals to fraudulently marry visa seekers. The ABF claims that such scams typically target vulnerable young Australian women from low socio-economic backgrounds, with hopeful visa applicants paying a heavy fee engage in a fraudulent marriage.
The ABF have also boasted recent successes in combating fake visa marriage scams in Victoria, with one individual recently sentenced to six months imprisonment after being found guilty of committing fraud like offenses under the Migration Act.
The ABF’s Acting Investigations Commander, Clinton Sims, said that fake marriage syndicates such as these directly undermine the integrity of Australia’s visa program, while also exploiting desperate and vulnerable individuals.
“Non-citizens seeking to live in Australia who had exhausted all other options to remain lawfully were paying a significant amount of money to enter into a fake marriage,” Sims said.
“Those seeking a visa through a contrived marriage also need to understand that paying a facilitator will not buy them a permanent visa pathway in Australia. There is rarely any financial recourse in the event that their Partner visa application is unsuccessful.”
The 32 year-old Indian national accused of running the NSW syndicate professed his innocence to the media earlier this month outside the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney. If found guilty, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution has confirmed that he may face up to 10 years in jail, along with a financial penalty of up to $210,000.
“I don’t know the guy who was arranging these things, I am just sometimes helping them,” Singh said.
The four accused women also made an appearance in court, facing charges of aiding, abetting or procuring the arrangement of a marriage to help foreigners gain Australian residency.
Two sisters from the NSW Central Coast, Brook and Jordan-Lee Evans, aged 21 and 24, chose not to enter a plea. Meanwhile, 25 year-old Nicole Flower pled guilty to helping to arrange a sham marriage in December 2013, and will face court next month.
Police will also allege that a Casula woman, Suzanne Akkari, aged 24, also helped arrange a fraudulent marriage in May 2013.
The Director of partner visa processing at Absolute immigration, Laurie Duncan, has indicated that he strongly supports the authorities’ ongoing investigation and prosecution of fraudulent practices in this area.
Before working as a Registered Migration Agent, Mr Duncan was employed by the Immigration Department for 28 years, and during his long career he was, at different times, the Officer in Charge of both the Partner processing section and the Investigations branch.
According to Duncan, when there is increasing fraud detected, the Department of Home Affairs will understandably focus more closely on testing the bona fides of applications.
“Genuine applicants cannot afford to risk having their applications caught up in prolonged investigations.”
“They need to have their applications prepared carefully and professionally to ensure they have the best chance of being successful,” Duncan said.
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