Is Big Immigration Watching You?

It can feel like you’re being bombarded daily with alarming news stories of “Big Brother” surveillance and data breaches.

Google reading email.

Facebook selling data for profit.

Wikileaks spying on government spying on the rest of us.

But what does this have to do with immigration and visa applications?

So much.

So much, in fact, that if you’re going through the visa process, you can say “hello” to Big Immigration right now – they are almost certainly watching – and it’ll be some time before you say “good bye”.

How is this so?

They Collect Your Data from Everywhere

From foreign airports…

I wonder how many scans there are globally of my retinas and finger prints, and how many pictures customs and immigration officers have of my post-long-haul flight face.

Governments around the world are rapidly moving to the collection of biometric data for all types of international movements and visa applications.

And they share that data. Immigration in Australia has multiple data sharing arrangements with other agencies, domestically and, increasingly, in other jurisdictions.

From Australian airports…

Entering Australia on a Tourist Visa following a “trans-Tasman hop” to New Zealand to get another 3-month stay?

There’s a reasonable chance that on re-entry, Immigration is going to insist on seeing your emails, your text messages and your social media, to make sure you are not coming to work. They’re allowed to do it, too, and if you’ve ever watched an episode of Border Patrol, you know they do.

As they rummage through your luggage, Immigration officers might also query why your purported “beach holiday” requires 10 printed copies of your CV or – that ultimate summer accessory – a pair of steel-capped boots.

In interviews…

If your visa application looked a bit skimpy, or if you just meet a particular ethnic profile, there is a reasonable chance you will be called in for an interview. This is particularly common for Partner visas – don’t be surprised to find a pimply 22-year-old Immigration officer asking you the last time you made love to your partner – and it’s a certainty for protection visas.

From surveillance, inspections and raids…

Immigration is not averse to some good old-fashioned snooping.

They command a force of inspectors and investigators – the people who will knock on the door of partner visa applicants at 4am to see who is sleeping with whom.

Immigration also collaborates with Fairwork inspectors to monitor TSS sponsors, as well as the Australian Federal Police, to execute search and surveillance warrants.

In forms, when you – or people who know you – make an application…

Anyone who has been through an immigration process can vouch for the sheer volume of information you need to give up – voluntarily or otherwise.

In Australia there is a document called Form 80.  The sheer mention of this form is prone to send immigration lawyers into a slowly-rocking foetal position.  It’s almost 20 pages long.  It asks not only for your details, but the details of your parents, your partner’s parents – even your partner’s brothers and sisters.

So like it or not, everyone is inadvertently dobbing everyone else in.

Got pulled up for a misdemeanour on a drunken night out in 1989?

They want to know about it.

Your brother was born in the UK but now just happens to live in the UAE?

In the form it goes.

Most visa applications are now even online.  This not only makes it easier for you to apply – it helps Immigration collate and disseminate your data that much more efficiently.

But Not All Dob-ins Are Inadvertent!

The most common trigger of Immigration surveillance, inspections and raids are denunciations made via their disturbingly popular dob-in hotline.

Consider: who have you p—-d off lately?

Or not so lately.

Think of the disgruntled ex-employee, the jilted lover, the jealous colleague. Not to mention that loosest-lipped informer of all – the well-meaning citizen just doing their civic duty. These are Big Immigration’s best friends.

From other government agencies…

Worked slightly over 40 hours a fortnight from time to time on your Student Visa?

Paying your sponsored TSS Visa holder less than the base salary you put into the Nomination form?

Told Centrelink you’re single in order to maximise your benefit, while simultaneously applying for a Partner visa?

The ATO and Centrelink have this information, and now, thanks to data matching, so does Immigration.

The ramifications of this can be pretty big.  It might mean the difference between being granted a visa or not – and potential bans on future applications. Or in the case of TSS sponsors, serious sanctions stopping you from sponsoring employees, and being registered on a public “name n’ shame” list.

From your social media…

Applying for a Partner Visa?

You can lay money on Immigration looking at your Facebook page. I once saw somebody’s Partner Visa refused because of a few tagged photos and an “It’s complicated” relationship status.

So much of us is online: our social life, our love life and our family life.  You’re not curating this stuff for Immigration, but they’re watching anyway.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

Other than burning your iPhone, donning a tinfoil hat and moving into a treehouse, there are some practical ways you can protect yourself:

  • Be aware that your personal information is not as private as you think.

You can read every single page of those Term & Conditions that no-one reads, and you can insist on reading every single privacy policy there is – but once your information is online, you should assume it’s accessible.

  • Be authentic and consistent in all your dealings with Immigration.

Inconsistencies in data are a huge red flag in a visa application.  In the words of Sir Walter Scott: Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive

We’ll be discussing this in greater depth in a future article – so keep your eyes peeled.

  • If one government department has your information, assume they all do.

Immigration and other government departments are increasingly relying on data matching to help them with applications: don’t think that you can fib in a form about something like your employee’s salary and get away with it.

  • If you’re a visa holder, know your visa conditions.

You might think that 2 weeks of work for an employer that isn’t your TSS sponsor won’t hurt – that is, until you get to your permanent visa application and Immigration checks your employment history with the ATO.  Suddenly, not only is your permanent visa application in a lot of trouble, your temporary visa can also be cancelled.

  • If you’re an employer, be fully aware of your obligations.

Immigration and even Fairwork can show up at your business, announced or otherwise.  You’ll sleep a lot better at night if you know your obligations, know you and your employees are compliant, and know the data they have on you is legit.

  • Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

Think about what you’re sharing at the bus stop or your work Christmas party.  There might be people there who, for a myriad of reasons, may not have your best interests at heart.  If you’re a temporary visa holder you can be vulnerable – keep the conversation to the weather, and not your visa or relationship status.  The last thing you need to be dealing with, if your relationship is going through a rough patch, is a “dob-in” call about your Partner visa.

Remain Calm!

Look, I know this all sounds a bit alarming. But it doesn’t have to be.

The bad news is that, in data terms, we are all essentially walking around in the nude.

The good news is we can still take precautions to manage our disclosure of information.

Soon we are going to dig further into what all this means in more specific situations (this is not the last you will hear of Form 80).

Until then, remain calm. You are not alone – in the best and worst possible sense!