Immigration officials are powerless to prevent sex traffickers exploiting a student visa loophole because closing it would eliminate a basic human right to appeal negative rulings.
A Fairfax Media investigation last week revealed the way dozens of Asian women were being enslaved in Sydney brothels by sex traffickers operating a student visa scam.
After arriving from Hong Kong and Thailand on travel visas, the women were met by brothel middlemen who lodged study visa applications on their behalf.
While many submissions failed, appeals were routinely lodged in the knowledge the process took up to two years to finalise. In that time, the women disappeared into the underground sex trade, where they were at the mercy of criminal gangs.
Responding to last week's report, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison ruled out any changes to the system, saying it would punish the majority of genuine candidates who had a right to appeal against decisions.
"The answer here is not to withdraw appeal rights for tens of thousands of legitimate applicants who are having their status reviewed, but to work hand-in-glove with law-enforcement authorities to identify and crack down on criminal behaviour, which we remain committed to doing," he said. However, when asked about the report on ABC Radio National this week, Mr Morrison acknowledged that enforcement resources had been under ''serious strain and pressure''.
''We're working through budget issues,'' the minister said.
''It's an absolutely appalling case, and it's something I want to see cracked down on.''
Fairfax Media has identified two brothels in Blacktown and an associated parlour in Sydney's south where women, on student visas under appeal, are confined to an existence of sex work, eating and sleeping in the brothels.
Several sources on the edges of the ring have confirmed that within months, many of the sex-workers are slipping into addiction to crystal meth (ice), which in some brothels they are obliged to offer to clients.
In 2012-13, 3446 appeals against official refusal were lodged from 290,761 student visa applications submitted over the same period. During that time, the immigration department found 2161 people working illegally in Australia, 80 of whom were working in the sex industry.
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