Contentious Visas Gain MP’s Backing

Contentious visas gain MPs' backing

Jewel Topsfield
The Age (Melbourne)
September 12, 2007

A BIPARTISAN parliamentary inquiry into temporary skilled migration will not recommend significant changes to the controversial 457 visa program, despite revelations of employer exploitation and mistreatment of foreign workers.

It is believed that the joint migration committee's report could say that while providing Australians with jobs and training is the priority, temporary skilled migration remains important in a strong economy with low unemployment.

However, the unanimous report, to be released today, is expected to reject calls from the hospitality and transport industries to expand the 457 visa program to include non-skilled workers, such as truck drivers and cooks.

It is believed the report may recommend that a national skills assessment of overseas-trained doctors be urgently introduced, and a review be held into whether employers are complying with security and police checks.

This follows serious concerns raised by the cases of Mohamed Haneef and Jayant Patel. Patel was dubbed Dr Death after his negligence at Queensland's Bundaberg Hospital allegedly led to the deaths of 17 patients.

The Dr Death scandal revealed discrepancies in the way overseas-trained doctors are assessed in the different states. The Australian Medical Association has also criticised the recruitment of foreign doctors on 457 visas, on the grounds they do not require comprehensive security checks.

The inquiry may recommend a more confidential method for 457 visa holders to report breaches of their visa requirements, to prevent employers from retaliating.

This follows claims exploited foreign workers were too scared to complain about their conditions in case their bosses sent them home.

Under the 457 visa, an employer can sponsor a skilled employee to work in Australia for a period of three months to four years provided the job cannot be filled locally to fill gaps in the booming economy.

The number of visas has skyrocketed, with 101,608 foreign workers in Australia on 457 visas as of March 31, up almost 30 per cent on the year before.

The scheme requires employers to abide by strict conditions including a minimum salary of $41,850, based on a 38-hour week, with a 10 per cent reduction available in regional areas.

However, a recent Age investigation exposed blatant breaches of the scheme and revealed the cases of three foreign workers who had died while on 457 visas in Australia.

The 457 visa inquiry was announced in December last year, as the Government scrambled to fix a system that had proved politically embarrassing.

The Age understands immigration officials sat in on public hearings conducted by the inquiry.

In April, the Government moved to pre-empt many of the committee's recommendations, including civil penalties for employers who failed to pay the minimum salary or used workers in unskilled jobs.

It is believed that the report may welcome the changes and could recommend an independent review of the 457 visa program in 2008-2009.

The report could also recommend a review of the salary system for 457 visa holders.

The Labor members of the committee are believed to support the report but call for 457 visa holders to earn the market rate of pay.


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