This article was originally published by Daily Telegraph Australia (News Corp) on July 19, 2023.
Ex-FBI agent tackling biggest threat to Aussie visas
by Adella Beaini
Harry Samit, Joe Brutsche and Bryan Friess at a Pearson Professional Center in Australia
Harry Samit— who worked on the 9/11 investigation — is leading a squad investigating people finding back-door entries to work in Australia.
An ex-FBI agent is overseeing a crack squad investigating people cheating on their visa tests and finding back-door entries to work in Australia.
American counter terrorism expert Harry Samit is working with Pearson VUE — which specialises in computer-based testing for certification and licensure programs — and our Department of Home Affairs to ensure illegitimate “international students” don’t get into the country.
Many visa applicants are required to present an approved English test result as part of their visa application. This includes international students who may work with education agents to assist with their visa application.
However, the closure of Australia’s border during Covid forced institutions to accept online English tests results. And while test centres have opened back up for visas, the exam can still be taken at home for university applications.
Mr Samit, who spent more than 20 years with the FBI and worked on the investigation into 9/11, said since the pandemic there has been a rise in “dodgy applicants” taking the test online, with their strategies becoming “more opportunistic”.
He said there are a number of ways candidates cheat on the test including proxy testing, where a third-party or “impersonator” takes an exam on behalf of a candidate; exam fraud, where the contents of the test is stolen and sold; as well as collusion, where a candidate conspires with the test administrator.
“As security threats become more aggressive and have the potential to cause greater harm, protecting and maintaining reputations requires a continually evolving security posture,” Mr Samit said.
Bad actors are getting more opportunistic, so it’s about planning for the unknown and tackling potential misconduct such as candidate cheating or exam fraud.
“The theft and resale of expensive content and proxy testing are two of the biggest threats to exam security globally.”
By the end of 2022, more than 100,000 visas were granted by the Department of Home Affairs across the student visa program, temporary work (skilled) visa program and work visas.
Mr Samit leads a global team of about 30 people whose backgrounds range from law enforcement and intelligence to cybersecurity and analysts.
He said there are a number of ways they catch candidates cheating, including from tip-offs they receive and irregularities detected in their exam by elaborate software.
“Once we have evidence that misconduct is occurring, that something isn't as it should be with the results of the exam, then we use a variety of sophisticated investigative techniques to look at what occurred and to build evidence for our clients,” he said.
“We will look very closely at what happened, the different aspects of how the exam went and see if we can find anomalies.
“We will even look at the person’s connections on social media and attempt to build as detailed a picture as possible of what that person did and how it impacted their score.”
Mr Samit and his team also check security around tests for other clients who certify jobs such as in medical and financial services sectors, as well as some government agency roles.
Pearson VUE is one of several companies which administer the Australian visa tests internationally, with the Pearson Test of English delivered to hundreds of thousands of people globally.
“The Government remains committed to using English language requirements in migration legislation as a means to effectively manage immigration risk and ensure visa holders are able to fully participate in the Australian community,” a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said.
“English language requirements generally apply to visa applicants seeking to study or undertake employment in Australia.
“The Department accepts scores from certain English language tests as one type of evidence to meet various levels of English proficiency prescribed in migration law.”