Visa agents involved in sex trade

MIGRATION agents registered by the federal government are helping to run illegal prostitution rackets across Melbourne.

Up to six migration agents have worked with the mostly Asian syndicates running prostitution rackets in Melbourne and Sydney.

One of the agents involved in the sex industry in Melbourne helps to find Asian women, including those on student visas, to work as prostitutes in four different CBD apartments.

Migration agents are registered by the federal government and have powers to help people get visas and deal with the Immigration Department. They are meant to be governed by a strict code of conduct.

A Melbourne resident aware of one of the rogue agents made a complaint at a city police station in November last year.

”The constable I complained to seemed to be ignorant of the laws around prostitution and ultimately did nothing about it,” the complainant said.

An investigation by The Age has also discovered that:

¦ Under-age women have been working in illegal brothels in Melbourne’s inner east.

¦ The Australian Federal Police is investigating people linked to two state-licensed brothels as part of a human trafficking inquiry that has already led to the charging of a woman for allegedly forcing Chinese students to work as prostitutes.

¦ A senior state government minister is planning to introduce new laws to force police to take more action against illegal brothels.

The two licensed brothels linked to a human trafficking and sexual slavery inquiry are not the only government-registered and approved brothels with ties to organised crime.

Earlier this month, The Age reported that at least two other licensed brothels were closely tied to Xue Di Yan, a Mulgrave woman who runs a network of illegal brothels.

Ms Yan is the subject of an ongoing Victoria Police investigation into claims that she bribed a City of Yarra official who was responsible for shutting down illegal brothels and who has since resigned.

The probe into Ms Yan by Richmond detectives has uncovered two Chinese crime syndicates running dozens of illegal brothels. While this inquiry is expected to lead to the charging of some of her associates with bribery, Ms Yan continues to help run illegal brothels in Malvern, Thornbury and Preston.

In a separate development, The Age has learnt details of a number of under-age girls who were working in illegal brothels last year, including a 17-year-old at a site in Richmond. The girl is no longer working but the brothel remains open.

State Consumer Affairs minister Michael O’Brien has told The Age the government will pass new laws requiring police to take more action against illegal brothels. His pledge puts more pressure on Chief Commissioner Simon Overland to improve the force’s decentralised and often inconsistent or ineffective response to the illegal sex trade.

Mr O’Brien said that as well as forcing police to do more, the government would introduce laws for the seizure of assets from anyone profiting from prostitution rackets.

”People who may think that they are only slightly involved with illegal brothels [will] find themselves in the gun for proceeds of crime legislation if they are convicted,” he said.

Under the existing system, the regulation of the legal and illegal sex industry is handled by local councils, state police, Consumer Affairs and the Department of Justice. Federal agencies are responsible for investigating human trafficking, tax or immigration offences.

The Baillieu government’s promised reforms have been welcomed by Victoria’s Planning Enforcement Officers Association, which represents local council officials who lead efforts to shut down illegal brothels.

Association president Rhett English said council officials had been threatened at home when trying to shut down illegal brothels using planning laws. ”We are not trained or equipped to deal with organised crime,” he said.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said the force was ”actively looking at illegal brothels, particularly in relation to links with organised crime and human trafficking”.

”We will always act on reports of under-age workers or other illegal activities [this has included targeting street prostitution in St Kilda recently].

”We have had very preliminary discussions with the government to date and look forward to having further discussions.”

Read more:

Rise in international students

By Gordon Taylor
Updated Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:07pm AEDT
The ANU and University of Canberra have both recorded an increase in overseas student numbers, despite a national trend down. (ABC News: Damien Larkins)
Canberra’s main universities have gone against a national trend and attracted increased numbers of international students.
Figures from the Immigration Department show that student visa applications from outside Australia fell 32 per cent in the last six months of last year compared with the same period in 2009.
But the Australian National University has seen a nine per cent increase in international students this year, whilst the University of Canberra has had a 33 per cent increase.
ANU Vice Chancellor Professor Ian Young says there are still obstacles for overseas students who want to study in Australia
“Obviously the University would encourage the government to free up the visa regulations so that it makes the processing process as streamlined and easy as possible for well qualified bone fide international students.”
Professor Young believes that in the case of ANU it is the quality of the education that is attracting overseas students.
“In addition to that, I think that Canberra has been fortunate that it hasn’t been directly associated with a number of the issues around student safety, so its clear that international students see Canberra as a safe supporting environment to undertake their further education.”

Students paid for fake results

A SCAM involving a Perth university employee charging Indian students thousands of dollars for fake English test results stretched across the country, with one student flying from Queensland to obtain dodgy marks.

The student, Sukhdeep Buttar, was desperate to secure results good enough to qualify for permanent residency.

He heard about the racket through a friend in Perth, Satinder Sidhu, who gave evidence at Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission yesterday.

Mr Sidhu said he and Mr Buttar paid $8000 each to a man known as “Jimmy” so his results could be falsified.

“(Mr Buttar) was too much depressed . . . he couldn’t get the results; he tried a lot. That’s why he said if you know somebody,” Mr Sidhu told the inquiry. He said he had since learnt that “Jimmy” was in fact an Indian student called Pritesh Shah.

Mr Shah also took the stand yesterday and admitted he took about $30,000 from up to 40 Indian students so their results could be falsified.

Mr Shah said he became involved in the scam through a man called Abdul Kader who he worked with at a Perth petrol station. Mr Kader lived with a man called Keith Low who worked at Curtin University and could change the results of English tests used by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to help determine visa qualifications.

Mr Shah admitted he took about $200 per transaction and said Mr Kader also took a slice of the amount charged. The students were charged an average of $5000.

During Mr Shah’s evidence it was revealed that the CCC had raided the home of one of the students who paid for fake results. The CCC also secretly recorded calls between Mr Shah and Mr Kader. In one bugged call Mr Shah was heard reassuring Mr Kader in Hindi that the scam would not be revealed.

New legislation to strengthen the quality of Australian international education

Greater protection for international students will be available following last night’s passage of the first tranche of the legislative changes recommended by the Baird Review.

Minister for Tertiary Education, Senator Chris Evans, said these legislative changes reinforce the Gillard Government’s continued commitment to international education, and build on a range of current initiatives to enhance and protect the international student experience.

These changes will better protect international students by further strengthening education providers’ registration requirements, and expanding the role of the Commonwealth Ombudsman for external complaints by international students relating to private providers.

“The international education sector is going through a period of readjustment after several years of unprecedented and unsustainable growth,” Senator Evans said.

In recent times, the sector has come under increasing pressure as a result of the rising value of the Australian dollar, the ongoing impact of the global financial crisis in some countries, and growing competition in the international education market.

“The Gillard Government is firmly committed to supporting quality and sustainability in the international education sector,” he said.

“This legislation follows the Government’s re-registration of all international education providers last year, which has raised the quality of education and training delivered to international students. It also accompanies the Student Visa Program Review, which is due to report in the middle of this year.”

“The legislative changes passed yesterday are an integral next step as the Government moves to build the foundations of a system based on quality and integrity.”

The Government is also consulting key stakeholders on a range of reforms to be introduced later this year, which are primarily aimed at strengthening the tuition protection framework for international students.

The establishment of the National VET Regulator and the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency this year will underpin continued high quality in both the VET and higher education sectors.