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2 Aug 2023

Australia: Lack of visa protection catalyses temporary migrant worker abuse, says Unions NSW, lawyers & migrant advocacy groups

When I realised my employer was trying to send me back to Samoa, I went through a lot of stress. I was told to work against my doctor’s recommendation. I felt completely jailed within my own body not being able to talk or express any opinion on how I felt.
Kyle, migrant farm worker

In August 2023, Migrant Workers Centre, Unions NSW, Human Rights Law Centre, Immigration Advice and Rights Centre, and the Migrant Justice Institute released a report, ‘Not Just Numbers: A Blueprint of Visa Protections for Temporary Migrant Workers’, analysing temporary migrants’ experiences in Australia.

The report argues for ‘immediate, strong and reliable’ visa protections for migrant workers to eliminate exploitation. The report also seeks to humanise the figure of a ‘migrant worker’ by compiling testimonies from workers who explain the impact of immigration policy on their lives at work.

The report emphasises that fear of visa cancellation prevents migrant workers from acting on their rights at work. The report therefore argues that there is a need to remove bonded employment and to also enable paths for permanent residency for all migrant workers. The report calls for an ‘Exploited Worker Guarantee’, which safeguards workers against visa cancellation if they have had their rights breached at work; and, the creation of ‘a Workplace Justice Visa’, that allows workers in remain in the country to get advice and pursue legal action when their rights are violated.

I had my wages stolen by two employers, because they knew my visa could be cancelled if I stood up to them, and they took advantage of that. Because I had no security with my visa, I could not take action until it was too late. I never got back any of the money that was stolen from me and I am now barred from applying for any other visa in Australia. My family’s future is uncertain because of what my employers did to me. This should not have happened to my family, and it should not happen to migrants who are coming to Australia now.
Inderjit Kaur, migrant chef

The testimonies allege several labour rights violations, including:

  • Wage theft
  • Threatening deportation
  • Dismissal
  • Denial of leave and excessive overtime
  • Restricted access to medicines
  • Sexual assault
  • Employers withholding passports
  • Unsuitable and precarious living conditions, including deliberately isolating workers from their family and friends.