Australia relies on migrants to fill job shortages, but many are exploited, survey finds


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Sixty-five percent of temporary visa holders in Australia have experienced underpayment, while one in four report being exploited in the workplace, according to a survey.

The Migrant Workers Centre’s Lives in Limbo report interviewed 700 migrants and found that those with employer-sponsored visas suffered from very high levels of stress.

The release of the investigation results comes just days after the Australian government delayed plans to allow international students and skilled workers to return to the country over fears over the Omicron COVID variant.

Australian business groups and farmers have called for more skilled foreign workers and working holidaymakers to help fill labor shortages, especially in the regions.

The Migrant Worker Center study found that 91 percent of those who were underpaid had temporary visas with no path to residence.

A new report on migrant workers reveals that it takes about five years for workers to obtain permanent residence.(ABC: Bec Whetham)

The Melbourne-based center said that despite Australia relying on foreign workers, from unskilled backpackers to highly skilled doctors and IT specialists, the visa system often left workers with a high level of uncertainty, stress. and open for operation.

He also noted that a central problem facing migrants was obtaining permanent residence, which often took around five years, but could span over a decade.

Migrants facing visa uncertainty

Indian migrant worker Paramjit has been in Australia for 13 years and does not want her last name used for fear of recriminations against her in the visa application process.

She has worked in Victoria and Tasmania as a hairdresser and is now an elderly care worker in the NSW area.

Although she paid between $ 50,000 and $ 60,000 to the Immigration Department and her work file, she was unable to obtain permanent residence.

She was forced to travel between states twice to comply with visa requirements, which have changed frequently.

Paramjit is still awaiting the outcome of his 887 visa application, a qualified visa for those who have worked in a troubled regional area as part of a path to permanent residence.

She says she and her husband will persevere in their efforts to gain permanent status in Australia, as her son, born in 2012, will be eligible for citizenship next year.

“I am depressed by this system and these visa policies,” she said.

Calls for visa redesign

Migrant Workers Center chief executive Matt Kunkel said the government is constantly changing visa rules, creating a temporary category of workers, who are essential to the Australian economy but with limited protections or certainty.

The man with the backpack looks at the airport arrivals board,
Many farmers and regional businesses continue to wait for the Australian border to reopen and the return of foreign workers.(Provided: Migrant Workers Center)

“The government expects migrants – often highly educated and very dedicated to creating a life in Australia – to give up the best years of work of their lives in this country, while shifting targets to keep permanent residence just out. range, ”said Mr. Kunkel said.

The center wants an overhaul of the system, including more permanent visas instead of the range of temporary visas.

They also want:

  • the employer sponsorship visa system was abolished and replaced with a state and territory sponsorship system for permanent residence;
  • maximum visa processing times;
  • and protections for whistleblowers of migrant workers.

“We need an overhaul of the visa system so that the lives of workers do not rest in the hands of one employer alone and that all long-term migrants have the possibility of obtaining permanent residence,” said Mr Kunkel said.

The centre’s study also found that migrants with temporary visas also faced barriers in the labor market, with 37 percent saying they had been refused a job because they did not. no permanent visa.

“Companies are reluctant to offer migrant workers professional employment because workers’ continued service depends on extending their visas,” the report said.

“We are skilled slaves”

Data analyst Hannah * from Turkey has been in Australia for four years and has struggled to find a job due to her temporary visa status.

She says that despite spending over $ 7,000 on an immigration lawyer, she is unsure whether she will be able to stay in her current roles as a statistician for a hotel company.

A woman posed for a photo along a coast.
Hannah struggled to navigate the visa system.(Provided: Hannah)

His initial application was rejected because the Immigration Department ruled that a visa can only be granted to statisticians if they work in banking or healthcare.

He was told it could take another three years to appeal his visa application.

“I was facing a severe depression because of all of these uncertainties,” she said.

The Interior Ministry has been contacted for comment.

* The name has been changed to protect his identity.

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