US criticizes Australian immigration scheme

The United States State Department slammed Australia's 457 visa scheme, saying it was possible to be linked to illegal labor trafficking.

The 457 visa scheme is an Australian immigration program that allows employers to bring in workers from overseas for a temporary amount of time if they cannot find workers locally.

<$adv0>The State Department praised Australia's policies on human trafficking but expressed concern over the treatment of temporary workers brought in from India, South Korea, and China.

The U.S. State Department's "2007 Trafficking in Persons Report" was written to highlight the increasing international trade in sexual slavery and underpaid labor.

"The Australian Government should devote more resources to addressing allegations of labor trafficking, including in connection with its 457 worker visa program," the report said.

Australia's Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews rejected U.S. criticisms and said that employers who hire workers from abroad under the 457 scheme must meet strict conditions.

"Unfortunately the U.S. State Department appears to be ill-informed in respect to the purpose of the 457 visa and the obligations placed on employers who use the scheme," said Andrews in a public statement.

While denying the U.S. claims about the temporary worker scheme, he felt that the State Department's report was otherwise "very positive" about Australia's stance on human trafficking. It ranked Australia as a one of the top tier countries that comply with U.S. standards in combating the problem.

The report praised Australia on strengthening its domestic trafficking laws, increasing penalties for trafficking in children, and increasing penalties for employers who exploit workers for forced sexual servitude or slavery.

The Australian government recently increased penalties against employers who abuse the 457 visa scheme, as well as fast-tracking applications for those employers with a history of compliance. In May, the government increased the amount of federal 457 visa funding by $85.3 million.

However, Dave Oliver from the Manufacturing Worker's Union agreed in part with the U.S. State Department.

"We've had cases where workers are getting paid three dollars an hour," Oliver said.

"We've had cases where workers have been abused by employers and if they've spoken out they've been sacked and faced with deportation."

Several governments have recently begun cracking down on human trafficking, with particular attention to sexual exploitation. Canada has tightened up exotic dancer standards and the United Kingdom has opened the successful Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield, England in combination with increased law enforcement in the area.


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