The Australian government has temporarily shut down its Iranian visa processing operations after it received warning that rogue migration agents had been illegally obtaining visas through a contact at the embassy in Tehran.

The allegations were outlined in a letter sent to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI), which accused certain locally-based migration agents of exploiting a “special relationship” with a contact in Tehran.

The agents are said to be charging tens of thousands of dollars to secure visas for individuals in both Australia and Iran, which has raised serious concerns about the integrity of the immigration system.

The letter—which was sent by the Australia Iran Migration Consultants Association—pointed the ACLEI to a noticeable increase in the number of Iranians traveling to Australia on temporary entry visas, despite having relatives who were already living here on a protection visa. However, typically there is very little chance of such a visa being granted, due to the possibility that they will also apply for protection status upon arrival.

“We request the embassy investigate the allegations and let our Association members be assured that the decision of refusal or granting the visa to the applicants is based on the Australian Migration Act and Migration regulations,” the letter said.

“These applications were not based on compelling and compassionate reasons and were not endorsed by an Australian government organisation.”

Since the closure of Tehran’s visa processing services, applications lodged by Iranians have subsequently been diverted to other Australian embassies in the region.

The head of the Australia Iran Migration Consultants Association, Mohammad Reza Azimi, said that senior officials from the Tehran embassy did respond to their letter, asking for information to back up their accusations.

“They asked us for the names of those people who we believed are involved in some sort of corruption. We had several meetings within the Association, because that’s a very sensitive thing, and we asked if the confidentiality of the Association would be maintained if there was any sort of FOI request,” Azimi said.

“We were not reassured they could maintain the confidentiality of the Association, so we said we can’t provide the names.”

“We asked the department to do an investigation. They can just draw the information from the system, for example, on how many visitor visa applications [each agent] lodged in the last five years, compare it to the others, look into the merits of each case and you will find the answer. The Embassy didn’t get back to us. We don’t know what the outcome was.”

The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, was critical of the Department of Immigration’s inability to adequately police visa fraud.

“The closure of the visa office in Tehran demonstrates the need for the government to establish, monitor and enforce a stricter program around visa fraud,” Lingham said.

“There is a history of being a ‘soft touch’ and incidents of visa fraud on the rise across all areas of the program and this latest action is a move in the right direction to show that we do not condone this sort of behaviour.”

“We encourage whistle blowers, significant fines and removal of proceeds from crime, as well as prison time for offenders, especially registered and non-registered agents,” he said.

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