Foreign Workers and 457 Visa in Australia
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The Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457) is closed to new applicants. If you are a current visa holder, see your obligations. The 457 visa is a temporary working visa in Melbourne & Sydney, gives an opportunity for skilled workers to come to Australia and work for up to four years.
No. of Words: 1000+
Foreign Workers and 457 Visas
The Temporary Business (Long Stay) – Standard Business Sponsorship – Subclass 457 (commonly known as the ‘457 visa’) is the program most frequently used by Australian employees to sponsor foreign workers. Introduced by the Howard government in 1996, the 457 visa enables a person to enter and remain in Australia for more than three months but less than four years, as well as allowing for multiple entries during that period. Its purpose was to allow ‘the temporary entry of business people and highly qualified specialists.’ These visas were originally designed to allow Australian employers to sponsor professional workers to manage skills shortages, but have in recent years been focused on a range of traders and more menial labour. Approximately 50,000 workers are being recruited each year under this scheme. The foreign workers must be paid a gross annual salary of at least $41,850. Among the types of workers sponsored under the program are printers, fitters, turners, construction workers and loggers, with the most sought after including trainee doctors, welders and chefs. The use of these visas has been criticized; claiming they deny young Australian jobs and training opportunities and that temporary trainees and workers are vulnerable to exploitation. However, the Howard government argued skilled overseas workers supplemented the Australian skills base, filling vacancies that could not be locally met. The operation of the 457 visas illustrates the connections between government policy areas, with immigration, employment, taxation, industrial relations and legislative enforcement all involved. In recent years a number of foreign workers have died in Australian workplace. Other investigations have exposed blatant breaches of the 457 program, highlighting the exploitation of these workers. Many temporary workers complained of similar issues including working longer hours than expected (often 60- plus hours per week); being forced to do menial laboring work in breach of the skilled visa requirements; having accommodation and meal expenses wrongly deducted from their wages; not being paid overtime; having removal costs deducted from their pay to reimburse the employer (10,000 each in one case); being used as strike breakers, being forced to work in unsafe conditions; and being threatened with deportation for complaining about conditions. While being deported for complaining about not receiving minimum labour standard is extreme and only applies to foreign workers, local workers also often suffer victimization by employers for raising the issue of legal entitlements. The following examples highlight the level of exploitation experienced by these foreign workers. Four Indian workers were sacked from their jobs, evicted from their accommodation and threatened with deportation after refusing to sign Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA) that would cut their wages. They had been charged $10,000 to get their jobs, plus airfares, as well as $100 each per week to live in crowded rooms in their employer’s construction yard. Three Filipino workers who complained to Unions about wages and working conditions were threatened with deportation. Their employer had been underpaying them as well as charging them $450 per week for bunk style accommodation. At an engineering company in Western Australia, the employer was collecting $2080 per week for a three bedroom house rented to Filipino workers. Four Chinese printing workers were underpaid almost $93,000 by a Melbourne company. After the underpayments were recovered by the office of Workplace Service, the workers were threatened with deportation unless they signed an AWA that contained an obligation to repay the recovered wages to the employer. Similarly, a group of Chinese construction workers in Wollongong were owed $216,000 in unpaid wages. The same happened with various Pacific Islanders from Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. The conditions of some foreign workers in Australia led a number of commentators to suggest the visa scheme amounted to “slavery”, and were; exploitative and racist’. Following these exposes and criticisms, the Howard government introduced legislation amending the Migration Act 1958 (Cwlth) in June and August 2007, in an attempt to tighten the obligation of employers, introduce civil penalties for breaches of those obligations, and better define the powers and functions of inspectors. The Howard government also allowed for amendments to the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cwlth) so that the Taxation office could provide Immigration and Citizenship Department with information about sponsoring employers. After reports that Qantas was considering importing temporary workers under 457 visas to break strike action by maintenance workers, the Rudd government announced in January 2008 that it would block any such action because it was contrary to the purpose of the program. Intakes under the program were reduced in March 2009 in response to the global financial crisis.
- What are some of the key controversies surrounding the Foreign Workers 457 Visas as highlighted in the case study? Explain in detail. (5 Marks)
- How can countries like Tonga, Samoa and Fiji help protect their citizens working under Foreign Workers 457 Visa in Australia from exploitation? Do these countries have any say in this? (5 Marks)
- As a policy maker, what advice would you give to your local agencies responsible for recruiting and selecting locals for Foreign Workers 457 Visas? What strategies would you implement to ensure your country’s citizens are not exploited overseas? (10 Marks)
- Does the treatment of these foreign workers support/negate arguments about the enforcement of minimum labour standards? Explain in detail using appropriate examples. (5 Marks)