01/10/2008 - 22:00

457 visa concerns

01/10/2008 - 22:00

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MIGRATION agents believe new federal legislation aimed at cracking down on employers that exploit workers under the temporary 457 visa program will lead to a further tightening of employer obligations.

MIGRATION agents believe new federal legislation aimed at cracking down on employers that exploit workers under the temporary 457 visa program will lead to a further tightening of employer obligations.

The new bill, introduced last week, contains a number of amendments to the Migration Act, which, if adopted, would impose stricter controls on 457 visa employers.

It includes: an expansion of the powers held by immigration compliance officers to conduct workplace site visits, similar to those of the Howard government's workplace inspectors; fines of up to $33,000 for employers found in breach of their obligations; and greater information exchange between government departments to disclose tax information about employer sponsors.

In addition, the bill allows for an expansion of employer sponsorship obligations, through regulations to be introduced after consultation with stakeholders over the next few months.

Lavan Legal partner and migration agent Ian Curlewis said the legislation was aimed at preventing workers from being exploited, but said it had also given the Department of Immigration and Citizenship greater control over employer obligations.

"As I understand these changes, under the new bill, DIAC will be able to put in regulations as to how they apply the employer obligations," he said.

Mr Curlewis said many business owners would be nervous about the changes because of the ambiguity around how DIAC will interpret the regulations.

"I've come across a situation where an employer sacked an employee for serious misconduct, but the department has said that the employer must continue paying the employee's salary for the following 30-day period, which is different to the way I would interpret the rules as a lawyer and migration agent," he said.

"The application of the employer obligations can be quite draconian - it applies not only to the Workplace Relations Act, but other legislation like the Occupational Health and Safety Act."

The introduction of the legislation coincides with last month's release of another issues paper, part of the review of the 457 visa program being undertaken by federal Industrial Relations Commissioner Barbara Deegan.

Previous issues papers have flagged the need for enhanced employer obligations, including payment of the costs associated with workers' travel, recruitment, migration agent fees, licensing and professional registration.

Kewdale-based Iscah Migration Consultants director Steven O'Neil said most employers, particularly large companies that relied heavily on the 457 visa program, would not be greatly affected if these obligations were introduced.

"But it will get rid of the number of companies we're aware of overseas that exploit workers by charging a large bond [for their recruitment]," Mr O'Neil said.

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