The Albanese Government has committed to visa-based protections to empower migrants to leave abusive employers and enforce their labour rights.
Andrew Giles, the Minister of Immigration, Citizenship, and Multicultural Affairs, made the announcement on Monday 6 June that three crucial safeguards will be implemented for migrant workers.
These protections include preventing visa cancellations, introducing flexible visa requirements for future sponsorship visas, and establishing a short-term visa that allows workers to claim unpaid wages and hold exploitative employers to account.
Associate Professor Bassina Farbenblum, Co-Executive Director of the Migrant Justice Institute and UNSW Faculty of Law & Justice, called the protections a “game-changer” if designed effectively.
“For the first time, migrant workers could safely address wage theft and walk away from employers who exploit them without risking their visa,” said Farbenblum.
“Dodgy employers will no longer be able to assume that international students and other migrants will suffer in silence if they’re underpaid or abused,” she said.
These changes are the result of a collaborative effort by the Human Rights Law Centre, the Migrant Justice Institute, and academic institutions such as UNSW and UTS, who brought together 40 organisations across Australia to advocate for better protections.
The coalition is comprised of trade unions, migrant rights groups, and faith-based organisations who worked together to develop a comprehensive plan outlining visa protections for migrant workers.
The Migrant Justice Institute and the Human Rights Law Centre welcomed the Government’s announcement of two additional protections for migrant workers. These protections will allow sponsored migrants to leave “dodgy” employers and support themselves for up to six months while seeking a new sponsor.
Further, there is a commitment to amend the Migration Act to ensure that all workers, regardless of their immigration status, are protected by Australian workplace laws.
Associate Professor Laurie Berg, Co-Executive Director of the Migrant Justice Institute and Faculty of Law at UTS, called for these changes to be actioned urgently.
“The cap on international students’ work hours returns on 1 July,” said Berg.
“Employers know that if students work more hours than permitted, their visa could be cancelled if they report abuse,” she said.
“The combination of cost-of-living pressures to work more hours and lack of visa protections will create a perfect storm for widespread exploitation that may be the worst we’ve seen.”
The combination of cost-of-living pressures to work more hours and lack of visa protections will create a perfect storm for widespread exploitation that may be the worst we’ve seen.
Associate Professor Laurie Berg, UTS
Inderjit Kaur, a temporary visa holder and advocate at the Migrant Workers Centre, said her wages were stolen by two different employers because they knew her visa could be cancelled if she stood up to them.
“Because I had no security with my visa, I could not take action until it was too late,” said Kaur.
“I never got back any of the money that was stolen from me and my visa is now uncertain. This should not have happened to my family, and it should not happen to migrants who are coming to Australia now.”
The alliance warned that these visa protections need to be robust and reflect the realities faced by migrant workers in their workplace.
They recommended the Department of Home Affairs engage in a collaborative design process with migrant workers, their representatives in the union movement, and other allies to ensure the protections are effective.
“[The Government] has a critical opportunity over the coming months to design out some of the levers for exploitation in the migration regime,” said Sanmati Verma, Managing Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre.
“If it is serious about achieving that, it will put migrant workers and their allies at the centre of co-designing these critical protections.”