On October 4, 2023, the Australian Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security, the Honourable Clare O’Neil MP, unveiled the findings of the Rapid Review into the Exploitation of Australia’s Visa System, commonly known as the Nixon Review.
In October and November 2022, a collaborative investigation by 60 Minutes, The Age, and The Sydney Morning Herald unveiled accusations of visa scams, sex trafficking, and exploitation of foreign workers. Specific claims were made against several registered migration agents (RMAs).
In response to these allegations, on January 16, 2023, the Minister for Home Affairs, Clare O’Neil MP, appointed Ms Christine Nixon, AO, APM, to conduct a swift examination known as the Rapid Review into the Exploitation of Australia’s Visa System (Nixon Review). These reports included accusations of human trafficking and exploitation of migrant workers by unscrupulous Registered Migrant Agents (RMAs).
During this review, Ms Nixon extensively consulted with various Commonwealth, state, and territory agencies, as well as other pertinent organisations. She also considered findings from past and ongoing inquiries, including Parliamentary Inquiries, and regulatory approaches in relevant international jurisdictions, aiming to identify recommendations and insights to tackle the identified issues.
In response to the allegations highlighted in media reports, the Australian Government, under the leadership of the Australian Border Force (ABF), initiated Operation INGLENOOK, a collaborative effort involving multiple agencies. The operation aimed to identify and counter the threat posed to Australia’s borders by individuals exploiting visa programs.
Since its commencement, Operation INGLENOOK has utilised comprehensive government expertise and resources to target key facilitators and their networks. Simultaneously, efforts were made to assist visa holders who had fallen victim to trafficking or modern slavery practices within the sex industry.
As of September 18, 2023, Operation INGLENOOK has assessed over 165 individuals of interest to determine their involvement in exploiting the temporary visa program. This scrutiny has led to the issuance of more than 44 border alerts. These alerts have resulted in action against known facilitators, including 214 interactions at the border. Furthermore, 74 individuals were denied immigration clearance, and 32 offshore visa cancellations were executed, preventing their return travel to Australia.
Moreover, on December 14, 2022, and January 13, 2023, respectively, the Office of Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) revoked the registration of two agents who were identified as RMAs of interest in the media reports. Several other RMAs have been flagged as individuals of interest, and all allegations of suspected misconduct are presently under investigation by OMARA.
Additionally, the Government has committed to implementing further measures in response to specific recommendations outlined in the Nixon Review.
The Nixon Review has put forth 34 recommendations based on seven key findings. A comprehensive copy of the review and the corresponding Government Response can be accessed on the Department of Home Affairs’ website.
In response to these findings, the Government has approved a series of measures addressing several recommendations. These measures involve enhancing the regulation of RMAs by granting additional powers to the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA).
Additionally, a specialised immigration compliance function will be reinstated within the Department of Home Affairs. This move aims to enhance the integrity of the visa system and target organised misuse of visa and migration programs.
The Nixon Review highlights prolonged processing times for Protection visa applications and merits review procedures as factors driving the exploitation of Australia’s visa system. The Government has allocated resources to eliminate incentives for insincere applicants to lodge Protection visa requests and reduce existing Protection visa backlogs.
Registered Migrant Agents (RMAs) play a crucial role in assisting individuals navigate Australia’s migration system, and the majority adhere to the law and the RMA Code of Conduct.
For law-abiding RMAs, the enhanced regulations will have limited impact. However, dishonest RMAs will face elevated penalties and intensified scrutiny from both the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) and the Department of Home Affairs.