Moves To Overhaul 457 Visa Scheme

Moves to overhaul 457 visa scheme

Yuko Narushima
The Sydney Morning Herald
November 14, 2008

AUSTRALIA should pay temporary skilled migrants market rates and name companies employing 20 or more such workers on a website, an independent review of the 457 visa scheme has said.

Yesterday the Federal Government released a report recommending 66 changes to the scheme, including calling it the Temporary Employment Visa to reinforce its purpose.

In reviewing the potential for underpayment and exploitation of overseas workers employed on the scheme, an industrial relations expert, Barbara Deegan, heard migrants were misinterpreting the scheme as a ticket to permanent residency.

“Where a visa holder has permanent residency as a goal, that person may endure, without complaint, substandard living conditions, illegal or unfair deductions from wages, and other similar forms of exploitation,” the report said.

In one of 150 submissions, the Australian Human Rights Commission said workers had complained of being sexually harassed, working unpaid overtime and being sacked for becoming pregnant and being sick.

The report proposes a levy for employers that would fund health services for employees.

But the Australian Industry Group's chief executive, Heather Ridout, said the Government had rejected the concept of a levy.

“While the Government has sensibly rejected the concept of a levy, serious cost burdens remain in the recommendations,” she said. “We will be examining the report and urging that a more balanced approach be adopted.”

The recommendations which would improve the integrity of the scheme were “overwhelmed by others which would impose onerous cost burdens on employers”, she said.

Another recommendation said workers should be assisted in transferring to new employers. Temporary migrants should be able to stay in the country for 90 days while finding a new sponsor and workers should receive wages for 28 of those days.

Such a change would give workers more power to speak out on poor conditions, a migration analyst, Bob Kinnaird, said. “The package would improve the conditions for workers and untie them from staying with a single employer,” he said.

The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Evans, said any recommendations the Government adopted would feature in next year's budget. “We have made significant improvements to the processing times of subclass 457 visa applications this year and have no intention of complicating the process or adding red tape to the program,” he said in a statement.

Paying market rates to overseas workers would ensure the wages and conditions of Australians were not undermined, he said. The recommendation to pay market rates applied only to workers on wages under $100,000.

The national secretary for the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, John Sutton, said that stipulation created an unnecessary ceiling. “There are workers in dangerous jobs earning more than that. I don't think scrutiny should drop off at that point,” Mr Sutton said.

He was disappointed by a recommendation that only employers with 20 or more workers needed to register their details on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website. This would leave workers in companies with fewer than 20 open to abuse, he said. Taken together, however, he said the recommended changes would provide the overhaul the system needed.

Recent statistics show 58,000 people are employed in Australia on 457 visas.