Illegal immigration is a costly option

February 21, 2024 | 03:27 pm PT
Huynh Thi Ngoc Han Immigration consultant
Our foreign study consultancy occasionally is requested assistance by Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection with students exceeding their visa status.

As expected, in most cases, the contact information recorded by the Australian authorities is no longer in use.

We don't exactly know why the students become illegal immigrants, but I always feel a bit sad about these cases. They jump through many hoops to reach Australia, and end up becoming illegal immigrants, with no documents or legal recognition.

According to Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, since 2016, there have been at least 70,000 illegal immigrants to Australia, typically dubbed "strawmen."

I tried to dig into the profiles of the students turning into illegal immigrants. I roughly divided them into two main groups:

The first group consists of students who have especially harsh financial conditions in their home countries, and are trying to reach Australia to make money to send back home.

Australia has a high minimum wage and high living standards, which helps students working part-time jobs or illegal jobs make quite good money. Even jobs like waitressing or cleaning provide students with an acceptable living. But if those students have debts or financial burdens, they may quit studying to work full-time, and become illegal immigrants.

The second group consists of students with poor academic performance, coming to Australia for quick and easy paths towards permanent residency. These students typically come from middle-class families with no significant financial difficulties but are not yet affluent enough to migrate as international big-money investors, and do not have enough professional experience to seek work visas.

There is also a minority number of students who missed visa renewal deadlines due to unavoidable situations or unintended negligence. These students are quick to resolve their legal status, and typically do not face significant legal consequences.

Regarding the first group, many students are taken advantage of. Due to their illegal resident status, the students only live under the radar, doing harsh work for below-minimum incomes, or doing illegal jobs like cannabis growing.

These students have no insurance or labor rights. They do not dare go to the hospital when sick. The income they make is sent back home through illegal means, with interest below market rates with high risks of fraud or personal danger.

Regarding the second group, the students typically register themselves for illegal marriage schemes, paying large sums of money in exchange for some fake marriages. A few years ago, two parents I knew attempted to figure out the cost of a fake marriage for their daughter.

The daughter graduated from high school, went to Australia for 6 months and did not want to go back to university. The quoted price was AUD100,000 (US$65,400). The family was affluent, and this price was no big issue for them.

I told them that, with this money, the daughter could finish university, get a two-year legal work visa, and get a minimum annual salary of AUD50,000.

In just a few more years, the daughter could have a legal, successful, and meaningful life in Australia, with a recognized degree and professional experience. Why did the parents support the daughter to enter a fake, illegal, and loveless marriage? I have seen many fake marriages like this, the marriage is fake, but the tragedy is real.

Writing this article, I remembered a couple living illegally in Australia for the past decade to save up money to send back to their family in Vietnam. Upon having a child, the child could not go to school, and was sent to a local woman with no proper pedagogy skills.

The couple did not have any social life, just worked the days and slept the nights. They wanted to confess to the local police to go back to Vietnam, but did not dare. One day, he was caught, and felt relieved.

Recently, from December 2023 to January 2024, four Vietnamese students in Hamilton High School, Adelaide, South Australia, disappeared while participating in an exchange program.

The police suspected that the students were "actively avoiding the local authorities."

The Department of Education of South Australia has ceased the acceptance of all students from three Vietnamese provinces, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, and Quang Binh at Australian public schools, the home provinces of the disappeared students.

Illegal immigration is a costly option. But with courage and determination, people can make a choice again, the tougher one.

*Huynh Thi Ngoc Han is a migration consultant.

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