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Australian MP defends transfer commission ban as agents voice concerns

In bold terms, the Australian MP Julian Hill has defended the decision by the country’s government to ban transfer commissions for onshore agents at an agency event as it tries to crack down on the level of student switching in-country. 

Julian Hill speaks to delegates at the SymplEd event in December 2023. Photo: The PIE News

"The government has made its policy position clear… all these things go through a Senate inquiry"

Speaking at SymplEd in Sydney in December, Hill reiterated that some international students are not genuine in their requirement to transfer providers, and some providers are not genuine either – and that nefarious practice is “unacceptable”. 

“There’s too many of them that are selling work visas – you know it, I know it; the public knows it. Some agents… are not acting in the best interests of students.

“The commissions, particularly for the quality private providers, are out of control in some parts of the sector – and it’s damaging it. The agents who we worry about in that regard are not the people in this room; but the government can’t just ignore it,” Hill told delegates.

While the ban was initially announced nearer the end of 2023, Hill went out of his way to assure those in the room that there would be opportunities for agents to be able to make their voice heard on the subject.

The policy changes proposed, Hill defended, are not a “knee jerk reaction” to a problem. He said it was related to agents whose rapacious behaviour of “selling students” is being seen in the bottom end of the private markets. 

“It is an issue because it’s going to drive reputable private businesses that have done a good quality niche product out of business – it is already doing so.”

Hill acknowledged that some agents would now face a choice and that the bad actors are essentially helping put reputable agents “out of business”.  

“It’s whether ‘I go where I don’t want to go’, or it’s ‘do I try and hold out and they’ll sell the students to someone else’. That’s the policy questions that we’re trying to grapple with,” Hill added.

The International Student Education Agents Association, which helped organise the event in Sydney, represents both on and offshore agents that would be affected in varying degrees by the proposed changes. 

“In general, ISEAA supports the government’s intent to build quality and integrity and it will be in the detail that we will learn of unintended consequences,” Rob Parsonson, chief executive of ISEAA told The PIE News

“The government is consulting the industry and there will be a further update on January 22 that ISEAA is participating in,” he confirmed. 

While the ISEAA accepted Hill’s points, some onshore agents in the room were concerned by the prospect of such legislation and how it could have a profound impact on their business. 

“Many businesses will need to move overseas and it would be destroying the strong partnerships that make the business work,” one agent relayed. 

Hill reiterated that the point could be raised as part of the consultation process. 

“The government has made its policy position clear… all these things go through a Senate inquiry. There’s a reason for the Senate and the Senate committee – it’s so that people can express their view there,” he explained. 

One agent who operates offshore, Raja Reddy from Elixir Group said the policy change “has a quality output”.  

“We have offices in India and see a number of students who our company has counselled [elect to switch] when onshore in Australia. 

“We work hard to recruit them and prepare them for GTE. The government has to control and monitor this situation and we are happy to welcome the change,” Reddy commented to The PIE.

“There’s too many of them that are selling work visas – you know it, I know it”

Hill was quick to lay some blame on the previous administrations for the general attitude and rhetoric the country was beginning to have towards international students. 

“Scott Morrison is probably the worst of them – there were the ridiculous press conferences where students were blamed by the then prime minister.

“If you couldn’t get a space on the freeway or couldn’t get a seat on the train, you were supposed to blame the international students.

“Certainly, we’re not supposed to blame an underinvestment in infrastructure by successive governments, you have to blame international students,” Hill posited.

On onshore commissions in general, Hill also made the point that the government should not be “making the perfect the enemy of the good”. 

“There’s a legitimate public policy objective to be achieved there. And it’s one that in my view, relates to transparency. 

“I think the position of [the ISEAA] is not to support transparency in commissions, which is fine. The government hasn’t made a decision on that – [but] I’ve argued in favour of transparency in commissions,” Hill noted. 

Parsonson clarified to The PIE that the ISEAA is not opposed to students being informed that a “commission may be paid for the services provided”.

“This is in line with what migration agents must disclose, [but] the ISEAA does not support percentages or dollar value being shared with the student,” Parsonson said.

Parsonson stressed that more urgent business for members was the unofficial slowdown of some markets “such as Colombia” through “high student visa refusals”. 

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