The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — The Trouble with Visas

Today, Australia is a country seemingly divided on many social issues. The issue of Asylum seekers has been a persistent topic of public discussion that has been simmering at the surface of most political debate.
While the merits of welcoming Asylum seekers are debated vigorously, discussions surrounding immigrants who already reside in Australia and the issues they face, particularly in attaining their visa’s seem more subdued.
In a small Italian restaurant located in South Yarra called Fratellino’s, an Indian immigrant named Suketu Patel has carved out a life for himself in his adopted country as a commercial cook.

He arrived in Australia from the chaotic streets of Mumbai in 2009, and it is only this year that he has finally been granted permanent residency. It has been what he describes, an “exhausting process” and one that has placed a great deal of duress on him. Speaking about the various types of visas, he explains that they all differ in their difficulty to acquire.

“It’s all about getting to know what documentation will be needed for the visa and whether you will be able to fulfil the requirement for that particular visa. For example, the criteria for getting permanent residency is 60 points, student visas are easy to get, you just have to show your funds and that sort of stuff. You will be granted according to your level of education, but with getting permanent residency or a working visa, it’s really hard”.

After explaining each visa, it is clear that the controversial working visa, otherwise known as the 457 has caused him the most frustration.
“To get a 457 is extremely hard, because the officers come and check to see if you’re carrying out what you have written in your job description. This happened to me regularly. Basically, you have to write a two page description which says exactly what you do in your job and if the immigration officers find that you are not doing that job, you will not get the visa, it’s as simple as that”.

In recent times, there has been plenty of political inquiry questioning whether or not workers on 457 visas are being manipulated by opportunistic employers.

Employers must ensure that workers on 457’s are employed in their nominated positions and are employed on the same terms and conditions as Australian employees. In March this year, the Abbot government launched a review into the 457 visa scheme, which included banning businesses from seeking payment in exchange for sponsoring a worker’s visa. Other recommendations included adopting a “name and shame” policy when it came to employers contorting the system, as well as stricter monitoring of salaries paid to visa holders.

Luckily for Sekutu, he has never endured such mistreatment. His relationship with his boss Simon has almost become something of a brotherhood. In many instances, Simon has acted as Suketu’s council on all things regarding the Australian way of life. His support has been unwavering.

Recalling everything that Simon has done for him, he pauses in a moment of reflection and the look on his face almost seems one of guilt.
“He (Simon) went through a lot of shit basically. He had to give his profit and law statements, how many people work with him and he basically just had to disclose every piece of relevant documentation including financial, organisational hierarchy structure and exactly what he does. I remember his documentation being 400 pages long and that was only his documents”.
It certainly hasn’t been an easy process for Simon, with many employers who sponsor 457 employees seemingly struggling to cope with the complicated demands of doing everything that is expected of them.

Suketu getting a sweat up

Immigration lawyer Emma Mackey highlights the fact that for small business owners such as Simon, meeting a 457 sponsor’s obligations are even more difficult because they are often doing several jobs at their workplace, meaning they often require external assistance when attempting to meet their sponsorship requirements.

With more immigrants being granted 457 visas than ever before, the challenges for employers will continue to increase. In 1998, 3000 immigrants were granted working visas by the department of immigration and citizenship. By 2013, there were over 120,000 granted. While this rapid rise provides opportunities for employers to fill labour market gaps, it also provides them with more opportunity to manipulate a system in which they can pay illegal wages, while receiving greater output from workers.

For many people seeking immigration to Australia, the higher standard of living is very much at the forefront of their minds. Unfortunately for a lot of these people, especially those who are on 417 and student visas, their desperation for any type of work to remain in the country can leave them an easy target for unscrupulous employees looking to increase profits as quickly as possible.

There have been various cases, particularly in labour markets such as farms and factories, where workers on a 417 working holiday visa have been grossly underpaid and are subjected to slave-like hours.
Labour law and migration expert Dr Joanna Howe summed up these people’s predicaments by saying that “we would never expect this if Australian workers were being treated this way, but because it’s 417 visa holders and we don’t know them, their is a lid on it, we accept that it’s ok”.
In some cases, labour hire contractors and dodgy middle men will sell groups of cut-price migrant workers to farms and factories.
In other cases, foreign students have been forced to accept food as payment, or have been paid as little as $7 an hour. Often, these students are unaware of their rights whilst in Australia and are too afraid to stand up to their employers as they cannot afford to lose their jobs because of the cost of living in Australia.

The tardiness and corruption within the workplace continues to shock and frustrate Suketu, who has tried to do everything the correct way.
“In Australia, I cannot believe how dodgy some people are. They (employees) try and get these fake documents, where an employer says that they are working over here as a chef or something and they charge $35,000 to basically hide this person so that they can continue living here. There was a guy who sponsored 40 people and he got caught and admitted to everything, but the people got screwed in a way. Those people then had 28 days to leave the country and can no longer apply for a visa”.
Another problem that many immigrants such as Suketu face, is the difficulty of the language test required for permanent residency. Suketu explains that he failed the test four times before passing, which is quite surprising considering how fluently he speaks the language now.

He goes on to add that these failures placed a great deal of stress on him because if he couldn’t pass the test, he was going to have to return to India. This year, the Abbot government decided to loosen the difficulty of the test, meaning that applicants would have to average a score of 5 across the four components, instead of passing each one. By doing so, it is perhaps allowing more workers like Suketu who can speak English to a relatively fluent level, more of a chance of remaining in the country.

At the heart of Suketu’s story, perseverance shapes as the most pivotal facet. Despite the complexities involved in obtaining a 457 visa, and then his permanent residency, he has been steadfast and diligent in his approach.
His sacrifice to live a better life cannot be undersold. He estimates that he has spent $50,000 on his visas. Sacrifice seems to be the underpinning theme for most immigrants that come to Australia. Suketu is ultimately a realist in many ways, and understands that he has many people to thank, which many other immigrants do not unfortunately. “To get the visa takes time, money, effort and support so without those four things, you don’t get it that is for sure. You don’t get it by yourself. That is impossible.”

Forever working hard and doing the little things

Modern-day Australia is a country rich in diversity. If more people like Suketu are given the right opportunity to contribute to our country with their skills — rather than exploited and taken advantage of, Australia will be a much stronger country for it.