Formal investigations are continuing after international students claimed Sydney businessman Eddie Kang cheated them as part of a systematic visa scam. But the Australian Government has been accused of not acting quickly enough. Rebecca Di Nuzzo reports.
Migration agents have expressed concern that the Australian Government is not doing enough to address reports of a Sydney businessman allegedly scamming multiple international students through visa fraud.
Last month a Lateline report uncovered complaints made by international students against CEO of Singapore Oil Eddie (or Eddy) Kang, who they say promised them work visas and sponsorship for residency if they paid up to $45,000 for work contracts.
But after handing over their money, the students were left with no job, no visa and no full refund. Furthermore, when they asked Kang for refunds, some students were reportedly faced with intimidation and death threats. Several of Kang’s victims have chosen to share their experiences on the website of Migration Alliance, a membership organisation for registered migration agents.
Karl Konrad, a migration agent and former Victoria Police officer, works closely with Migration Alliance. He uses its headquarters in Sydney as a base for the Eddy Kang Action Group, where victims may receive free legal advice from accredited immigration law specialist, Christopher Levingston.
There is little doubt that both the [Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority] and the DIBP have some serious questions to answer regarding their lack of action against Mr Kang.” – Karl Konrad, Australian Immigration Law Services
On the group webpage he aimed scathing criticism at government departments for their sluggish response to complaints he made against Mr Kang earlier this year.
“There is little doubt that both the [Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority] and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection have some serious questions to answer regarding their lack of action against Mr Kang,” he wrote.
Around 35 victims attended the first Eddy Kang Action Group meeting in late October, but media spokesperson Liana Allan said membership has since grown as news of its existence spreads.
The group now has a Facebook page and victims from around the country are encouraged to join. Plans are also underway to stage a protest outside the Department of Immigration in Sydney, with a date yet to be set.
Ms Allan said the purpose of the group was to provide emotional support for victims as well as legal advice. She said moral support would be important for members to not lose heart in their pursuit of Kang.
“A lot of them like to be able to discuss and share their experiences together,” she said.
When questioned why government departments seem so reluctant to investigate Mr Kang, Ms Allan said she recently received information from a migration agent and former Migration Alliance board member that Kang had strong political connections.
“I have been given information by a migration agent saying Kang has connections with a Federal MP,” she said. “The Department of Immigration has known about this for over 12 months and they have done nothing”
Mr Konrad told Lateline he attempted to notify the DIPB of Kang’s activities six months ago. However he claims his complaints fell on deaf ears and little action was taken to investigate or respond to his tip-offs.
“Quite simply it was as if they did not want to know,” Mr Konrad said.
I just can’t understand why no one wanted to listen, so many people could have been saved from what is essentially financial ruin and their lives being destroyed.” – Eufrecinia Lazatin, migration agent
A former employee of Kang has also reported similar experiences in her dealings with regulatory bodies. Ms Eufrecinia (Cinia) Lazatin, a registered migration agent who worked for Kang in 2012, also attempted to dob-in Kang to DIBP and OMARA. She was alarmed by Mr Kang’s work practices, suspecting early on in her employment that he was operating a sham business. Ms Lazatin was also shocked by both departments’ lack of interest in pursuing the matter.
“I just can’t understand why no one wanted to listen, so many people could have been saved from what is essentially financial ruin and their lives being destroyed,” she said.
Since the Lateline report brought public attention to the issue, the DIBP have remained tight-lipped on the progress of their investigation.
In response to questions by Meld, an Immigration Department spokesperson said it was inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation and he expected more information to be revealed once investigations had ceased. He was unable to provide any estimate as to when a conclusion might be reached however, or what kind of compensation victims could expect.
The spokesperson recommended anyone concerned they had been targeted by visa fraud contact the Department of Immigration by submitting a Dob-in Service Online Report on the DIBP website.
Brendan Hillis, an accredited immigration law specialist at Access Immigration, said many professionals in the field of migration services were aware of the Lateline report on Kang. He suspects that many applications Kang filed had technical problems, or the applicant may have not met the visa’s strict criteria, which resulted in their rejection. He said the laws surrounding visa requirements and applications changed regularly, so it is important to engage the services of a professional who understood what they were doing.
“This is a fairly complicated area of law,” said Mr Hillis. “One of the responsibilities of a lawyer is to tell people if they fit the criteria”.
Mr Hillis also found the amount of money victims paid Mr Kang for a work contract “extraordinary”.
He said the desperation some students felt to live in Australia, as well as the increasingly difficult process of applying for visas, may have been key motivators for students to hand over the cash.
“It is more difficult than it used to be, and it is harder to get a visa in Australia,” he said.
Mr Hillis feels the bewildering process of applying for visas and residency may cause problems for Australia down the track. He said highly skilled professionals may be discouraged from immigrating to a country where visa applications are becoming increasingly complex and expensive.
“Highly skilled people were coming here, they were paying for their own education and applying for residency,” he said.
He also fears foreign investment in the country might be threatened as some international businesses based in Australia are considering relocating overseas where visa requirements are less strict. In such a situation he said Australia stands to lose more jobs as entire companies move offshore.
“They are bringing a lot of money into the country, they are creating jobs,” Mr Hillis said. “Australia has to ask itself, ‘what is it achieving?'”