Australian Parliament passes new laws to protect overseas workers

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Australia's Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, has welcomed the introduction of new laws designed to give better protection for temporary overseas workers in Australia.

Designed to strengthen the integrity of temporary working visa arrangements, The Migration Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 passed through Parliament with bipartisan support, having been introduced after extensive consultation with industry and unions.

Amongst the schemes affected by the bill is the 457 visa program which allows migrants to stay in Australia for up to four years. This is an uncapped scheme driven by the demands of the labour market and enables employers to sponsor overseas workers needed to fill certain skilled positions.

The recent Deegan report highlighted various employer abuses amongst the sponsors of some 60,000 immigrants issued with visas in 2007-2008. Indeed, during the period, 192 employers were formally sanctioned with a further 1353 receiving formal warnings. The number of sanctions issued was double that in the preceding 12 months. In 2006-07 just 313 formal warnings were issued.

Under the new laws, specially trained officers will be empowered to monitor workplaces and conduct site visits to ensure that employers are complying with the redefined sponsorship obligations.

Employers found to be not complying with the Migration Regulations could be fined up to AUD 33 000 and may see the cancellation of their approval as a sponsor or the imposition of an order preventing them from making further applications for overseas workers.

The new laws will also enable the Commissioner of Taxation to disclose tax information to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in order to ensure correct salary levels are being paid to visa holders.