Yes, I finally found time to read the recently released Deegan report which reviewed the integrity of the Subclass 457 visa program.
With 100 pages, the report is indeed very long but admittedly not as long as other Commission-styled reports supplied to us in the past.
The report was prepared by Ms Barbara Deegan, an industrial relations expert appointed by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship specifically to review the integrity of Australia’s temporary skilled migration program.
Ms Deegan was the Australian Government’s representative at the International Labour Organisation in Geneva and is a Commissioner with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.
Ms Deegan’s report has somehow become the catalyst in the passage of The Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Bill 2008 into law. The legislation protects overseas workers working in Australia under temporary working visa arrangements including the subclass 457 visa program.
The subclass 457 visa program has been in place in Australia for more than a decade now but it was only in the last two years that public attention had focused on the program because of reported abuses and exploitation.
The program was introduced in September 1995 by the Keating Government and formalised by the succeeding Howard Government on 1 August 1996. Under the 457 visa program, subject to certain conditions employers are allowed to sponsor skilled workers from overseas for a period of three months to four years. Recipients of this visa are eligible to apply for a permanent skilled migration visa.
In year 2007-08, it is reported that more than 100,000 subclass 457 visas were granted with 60,000 of these visas being granted to primary visa holders.
The Philippines is in third spot as a source of overseas workers with Britain and India occupying the first and second spot, respectively.
Incidents of exploitation of workers
The Deegan report only confirmed the reported incidents of exploitation of workers on subclass 457 visas. The complaints include:
1. not being paid overtime
2. working longer hours aor days than non-visa employees
3. limited access to sick leave and dismissal if the Visa Holder takes sick leave
4. dismissal because the Visa Holder is pregnant
5. dismissal for taking leave to care for a sick spouse or child
6. overcharges on rent or other expenses organised the employer
7. sexual harassment
The Deegan report had a long list of recommendations spread over nine pages. (Unfortunately, the report did not number the recommendations, but based on my count the report has 68 recommendations.)
In my view, the major report recommendations include the following:
1. Subclass 457 visa holders to work under the same terms and conditions of employment as all employees in the workplace and the progressive abolition of minimum salary levels with salaries being determined by collective agreements or market rate.
The report recommended that market rates of pay should be paid to all temporary visa holders with salaries less than $100,000 per year.
2. Subclass 457 visa holders should not be permitted to remain in Australia for more than 8 years in total on a Subclass 457 visa. Temporary visa applicants must go offshore before reapplying for a visa after the 8 year period.
3. The current English language requirement attached to the Subclass 457 visa program be retained.
4. Subsclass 457 visa holders involved in safety complaints should be given protection to allow them to remain in Australia for the purposes of a prosecution of a complaint.
5. Dependents of subclass 457 visa holders should be allowed full working rights upon attaining working age during the currency of the primary visa, until the dependent attains the age of 21 years when they are regarded as independent unless they are in full-time study or have a medical condition that prohibits them from becoming independent.
6. Employers should be expressly prohibited from entering into any arrangement for the purpose of obtaining money from a visa holder as a consequence of the visa holder obtaining the employment and be prohibited from making any deduction from the wages of a visa holder for payment to any agent.
7. Procedures for making complaints against migration agents be provided to all prospective clients together with a schedule setting out the standard fees generally charged for particular services.
8. Removal of the requirement for legal practitioners with practising certificates to be registered migration agents in order to provide immigration assistance
9. Amendment of Visa Condition 8107 to make it clear that subclass 457 visa holders may cease work for one sponsor and find work with another approved sponsor.
10. Subclass 457 visa holders be allowed up to 90 days to find a new sponsor
11. The government should institute a levy from employers for each subclass 457 visa holder they sponsor which levies should be used to fund the provision of services to visa holders and removal costs if required and also Medicare coverage of public health costs to subsclass 457 visa holders and their dependents.
The Deegan report has also recommended a number of initiatives that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship should carry out aimed at providing more information and assistance to Subclass 457 visa holders. These include publication of approved sponsors, guidelines for visa cancellation, etc. on the DIAC website.
I expect that the rate at which the visas are issued will continue to grow. Of late, we have observed from what we regularly receive in the Message board of our news site, The Filipino Australian, the concentration of Filipino 457 visa holders is the resource-rich states of Western Australia and Queensland.
Given that the demand for skilled workers in Australia is across several industry sectors, we should also expect the other states like New South Wales and Victoria registering increases in 457 visa grants.
Australia needs skilled workers in health and community services, communication services, property and business services, manufacturing and construction. Professionals as another skills category had been reported to have exceeded the number of other 457 classes.