A former visa processing officer used their role to receive ‘substantial’ sums of money and engaged in ‘dishonest and deceitful’ conduct, a corruption investigation has found.
A new report released by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) has revealed that an employee of the then Department of Immigration and Border Protection had performed their duties to ‘dishonestly benefit himself’.
“They did this by using their position to obtain visa applicant details, contacting visa applicants and their sponsors outside of work, and granting, or offering to grant, a number of visas in exchange for an unlawful financial benefit,” the report said.
The visa processing officer, who was a locally engaged employee based at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi, had approved multiple visas outside of policies and procedures, the investigation found.
They had also received ‘substantial sums of money’ on at least two occasions from applicants’ sponsors, in connection with the processing of their visa applications, totalling $9,798.
The investigation, Operation Swordfish, found that the conduct of the employee was ‘dishonest and deceitful’.
ACLEI noted that two particular cases of misconduct had resulted in ‘severe consequences’. The first related to the granting of a visa application in circumstances where the applicant’s age was being investigated.
“It was later determined they were a minor. As a result of the visa being granted, the applicant travelled to Australia,” ACLEI said.
The second incident involved the employee taking the money of a sponsor of a visa application. The sponsor had believed he paid the visa fee correctly.
Operation Swordfish was undertaken by ACLEI’s Visa Integrity Task Force, which was established in 2017 to target corrupt conduct by staff in Australian and overseas posts.
ACLEI head and integrity commissioner Jaala Hinchcliffe said the investigation had highlighted the importance of corruption prevention activities, including training, to raise awareness of the integrity and corruption risks associated with visa processing.
“The former employee engaged in corrupt conduct, namely abuse of office, which generally means someone has used their position to dishonestly benefit oneself or another, or to dishonestly cause detriment to another,” she said.
“An important outcome of the Visa Integrity Task Force was the dissemination of corruption prevention products, which enable the corruption issues and vulnerabilities discovered through these investigations to be learnt from and mitigated in the future.”
The Australian High Commission in New Delhi was alerted to the officer’s mishandling of a number of visa cases through existing fraud control measures. Home Affairs notified ACLEI about two potential corruption issues, sparking the investigation.
The High Commission fired the worker in 2018, following a complaint from a client.