The lesser-known visa category has become a new avenue for unscrupulous employers to exploit foreign labourers to the detriment of Australian workers. As a result, the Fair Work Ombudsman is looking into at least 11 instances of alleged exploitation of foreign workers on the (subclass 400) visa.
Experts believe some employers could be exploiting the visa following the federal government’s announcement in April this year that it was abolishing the 457 visa over similar concerns.
“The 400 visa, was designed to parachute international specialists into short-term roles, has emerged as a “sleeper” category with looser restrictions than the 457 visa for Australia,” reports the Sydney Morning Herald, citing a case where Chinese workers were paid as little as $1.90 an hour to dismantle a vehicle manufacturing plant in South Australia, in one example, in another where metal fabricators from the Philippines were paid $4.90 an hour to work in NSW.
Despite there is anecdotal evidence of rampant exploitation, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection does not appear to have the information on the employment of these workers.
Hundreds of thousands of workers have been employed on short stay visa categories, over the last decade, including under the 456 visa which preceded the 400. But the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a crackdown on sponsored skilled visas in a bid to give priorities to Australians in job recruitment in a high-profile drive dubbed “Australians first”.
In April this year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in a crackdown on sponsored skilled visas, announced this government was going to abolish the controversial 457 visas to prioritise jobs for Australians.
Experts believe the 400 visa escaped scrutiny because of it being a lesser known subclass.
Labor MP Julian Hill accused the government of carrying out a “fake crack down” on visas when it abolished the 457, saying that temporary skilled visas should only be granted when there’s a genuine skills gap that can’t be filled by Australian workers.
Fairfax Media, one of the largest media companies in Australia, says it has witnessed first-hand 400 visas being approved within 24 hours with apparently very little oversight. The visa has been used to recruit workers for semi-skilled positions where qualified Australian applicants were available, despite the government’s directive that the work must be “highly specialised”.
But a spokesperson for the Immigration Minister has a different view and avows that all the 400 visa applications are processed while taking into consideration of all relevant information.
“The government is committed to ensuring that Australian workers have priority and that foreign workers are a supplement to, and not a substitute for, Australian workers,” he said.