News

Changes to 457 and citizenship law distract us from the needs of migrant workers

Friday 21 April 2017

Media and Communications Office

When Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the abolishment of the temporary work visa (subclass 457) to be replaced with a completely new temporary skill shortage visa by March 2018, he stated the decision was in the national interest of putting Australians and Australian jobs first.

It is still unclear who and what sectors the new policy will affect. Migration experts are in a wait and watch mode and say the latest legislation has spread panic among applicants and businesses alike. Key reforms include extending permanent residency eligibility from two to three years and allowing only one onshore visa renewal under the short-term stream. There is confusion over whether PhD and post-doctoral applicants, some of whom spend up to 10 years in study, would meet the previous work experience requirements of their occupation.

The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) has expressed its concern about how new visa legislations will affect migrant workers. It has called for the Australian Government to recognise and acknowledge the contributions of migrant men and women to the success of Australian business.

Fr Maurizio Pettena, ACMRO National Director says he hopes the government will not focus on the ‘national interest’ at the expense of heeding the plight of voiceless migrants. He urges the government to not overlook the numerous number of migrants who are exploited by Australian employers.

‘There are numerous examples of migrant workers being exploited by Australian employers, such as having their passports confiscated, being paid lower wages and required to perform sexual favours’, says Fr Pettena.

He hopes that, if well managed, the abolishment of the 457 visa and the unfolding changes to Australian citizenship law may at least present an opportunity to recognise the needs of migrant workers and to reflect on the values that define what it means to be an Australian, including religious freedom and fairness for all.

Denis Fitzgerald, Executive Director of Catholic Social Services Victoria says, ‘Catholic social teaching requires us to intervene. The church provides a lens through which complex social and political issues can be approached. Immigration is a large part of life in Australia. The guiding principles of respect for human dignity, solidarity and common good should provide the scope for maintaining a balance in the country’s immigration policy.’

Denis agrees it is easy to find examples in which migrant workers have violated the terms of their visa.

He explains, ‘But that should not make the government of the day inconsiderate to the much broader scene, in which vulnerable groups are being further marginalised and basic rights are being violated.’
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