The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) conducted a nation-wide blitz of Australian businesses last week, finding more than 225 foreign nationals working illegally across 50 businesses.
The raids were commenced as part of a larger operation that is currently being conducted by the Australian Border Force (ABF), which specifically targets visa fraud, illegal work and the exploitation of foreign national workers.
The individuals arrested by the ABF as part of the raids came primarily from Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China, and worked across a diverse array of industries, including Agriculture, Retail and Hospitality.
The ABF operation—which was codenamed Bonasus—was also aimed at targeting the rogue labour hire operators who are an integral part of the process for sourcing illegal labour. Several of these operators are now also facing additional investigations over their decision to send the money earned from exploiting workers overseas.
The employers charged with organising the illegal work are now facing fines of up to $210,000, as well as potential jail term of ten years imprisonment.
When pressed by the media a spokesperson from the ABF refused to divulge any further information about the nature of the raid beyond confirming that the majority of the illegally employed foreign nationals have subsequently been deported to their country of origin. The spokesperson also declined to provide an explanation when questioned about claims that many of the foreign nationals were living in “modern slavery style conditions”.
However, the ABF Commander of Field and Removal Operations, Robyn Miller, has issued vague a statement addressing the purpose of the raids, although it does little to elucidate the Department’s true motivations.
“Combatting visa fraud and investigating those who attempt to exploit and profit from Australia’s visa regime is a priority for the ABF,” Miller, said.
“The facilitation of, and engagement in, illegal work can have lasting negative impact on Australian communities and individuals.”
“This includes significant underpayment and substandard living conditions for foreign workers, and reputational damage for rural and metropolitan industry sectors,” he said.
The Director of Anti-Slavery Australia, Jennifer Burn, has said that foreign nationals are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse from unscrupulous employers, arguing that it highlights the necessity of screening foreign nationals for labour exploitation when conducting this sort of operation.
“We know that migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation, that they are subject to coercion across a wide-range of industries,” Burn said.
“The best practice, and this is absolutely critical, is for anyone found to be working without appropriate permission or who has breached their visa conditions to be screened to make sure exploitation hasn’t occurred.”
ABF Commander Miller also noted the long term damage that underpayment and worker exploitation can wreak on the Australian community, noting the reputational damage experienced by both rural and metropolitan industries.
“This includes significant underpayment and substandard living conditions for foreign workers, and reputational damage for rural and metropolitan industry sectors,” Miller said.
“Small and medium businesses are also disadvantaged due to the unfair competitive advantage gained by those who do not adhere to the law.”
The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, argued that further safeguards need to be put in place to protect visa holders who engage in illegal work, saying that it will help to ensure further exploited workers continue to come forward.
“Worker exploitation is a real issue in Australia, one that is not only exclusive to visa holders without the right to work. We have heard stories about working holiday maker and student visa holders who have been subject to extremely poor treatment by Australian employers,” Lingham said.
“We believe that one of the biggest issues surrounding worker exploitation is the lack of options for foreign nationals who assist with securing convictions. They are often left without a visa pathway to move to once they decide to come forward to reveal the activity of unscrupulous operators. At best, they could move on to a Criminal Justice visa, and if they are facing issues on return to their home country then they can potentially lodge a Protection visa application.
“Once the Department has protections in place for vulnerable visa holders, then we may see more convictions and a reduction in the level of illegal behaviour being committed by Australian employers,” he said.
If you have any questions or would like us to assist with your global immigration queries, please contact one of our Registered Migration Agents on 1300 ABSOLUTE (1300 227 658).
Chief Executive Officer