People who force migrants into breaching their visa conditions could face jail time and businesses that exploit migrants would be barred from tapping more overseas workers under plans to overhaul the temporary visa system.
The federal government will on Monday unveil a suite of changes that will include $50 million for the Australian Border Force to enforce new laws aimed at cracking down on the exploitation of the nation’s migrant workforce.
The move follows the recent review of the migration program that found it failed to attract the most highly skilled migrants and failed to deliver businesses efficient access to workers.
“At the same time, there is clear evidence of systemic exploitation and the risk of an emerging permanently temporary underclass,” it found.
Research by the independent Grattan Institute think tank last month warned exploitation of migrant workers was rife, finding up to 16 per cent of recent migrants were paid less than the national minimum wage.
It argued many exploited workers feared raising their concerns with authorities and when employers were found to have done the wrong thing they faced minor penalties.
Under the government’s planned changes, it will be a criminal offence to coerce a person into breaching their visa conditions.
Employers found to have exploited migrants will be barred from hiring more people on temporary visas.
Migrants will also have the period in which they can move between employers extended from about 60 days, depending on the visa, to 180 days.
On top of the extra funding to Border Force, the government plans to improve whistleblower protections for temporary visa holders.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said the changes were long overdue.
“There is a crisis of exploitation, with up to one in six recent migrants paid less than the minimum wage,” he said.
“When migrant workers are being underpaid, it hurts all of us, driving wages and conditions down for everyone. These reforms will help workers speak up and target those employers who do the wrong thing.”
The government plans to introduce the changes to penalties for exploitation to parliament for debate in the coming weeks.
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