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‘My employer asked for $50,000 for visa sponsorship’

Inderjit Kaur Dhami with her husband and sons. Source: SBS Punjabi

An Indian woman has alleged that she was made to work without pay for months at an Indian restaurant and her 457 visa nomination was withdrawn after she refused to pay her employer $50,000.

An Indian woman and her family will be leaving Australia with broken hearts and shattered dreams after her visa sponsorship failed, not once, but twice.

Inderjit Kaur Dhami’s visa runs out next week and if she doesn’t find an employer who is willing to sponsor her work visa, she says she’ll go back to her home country, India.

Ms Dhami has been in Australia since 2009 and her two sons were born here.

Currently on a student visa, she did get a 457 visa earlier this year. But her employer withdrew his nomination just over a month after the visa was issued. Mr Dhami claims her employer demanded money in exchange for visa sponsorship.

“He said if I wanted to stay in Australia I would have to pay $50,000,” says Ms Dhami.

She was sponsored to work as a cook at an Indian restaurant in regional Victoria in August 2017. She claims her employer made her work without any pay after lodging the visa application. After she received her visa in March 2018, Ms Dhami says the employer met her and her husband and allegedly demanded money.

“After we refused to pay up, he said withdrew the sponsorship and made up an excuse of my performance,” she told SBS Punjabi.

Ms Dhami is suing the employer for unpaid wages for her work between August 2017 and March 2018 before she was granted a 457 visa.

The employer claims Ms Dhami worked voluntarily during this period in order to “learn the duties for which she would have been responsible when the visa was granted”. 

He denies ever asking for money in exchange of visa sponsorship and said the reason for withdrawing sponsorship was that Ms Dhami “couldn’t work at her rostered hours due to her family commitments”.

However, Ms Dhami says it’s a concocted story that the employer had come up with after receiving the legal notice from her lawyer.

“I worked for him nearly seven months, there was no performance issue then. Even after the visa came, I worked my rostered hours for two weeks until fired me,” she says.

This isn’t the first time, according to Ms Dhami that an employer had allegedly asked for money for sponsoring her visa.

“Another Indian restaurant in Colac lodged my 457 visa but they also demanded money, $35,000. I worked for them for nearly ten months without any pay before I quit while my visa application was still under process,” she says.

When the Immigration Department sent a notice to her employer through a migration agent, asking for a document within 28 days, Ms Dhami claims it was kept from her until just two days before 28-day period was to end. 

“They deliberately did so because I would have been without a visa after that time and he [the employer] said if I wanted my visa, I had to pay him,” she told SBS Punjabi.

The restaurant has since shut down.

Ms Dhami realises she may no longer be able to have a life that she dreamt of in Australia.

“I had to spend $15,000 on a course I didn’t have any use for, just so that I could stay [in Australia] and find another employer. But it seems to be the end of the road for us here,” she says.

Ms Dhami says she will be leaving Australia with a broken heart, shattered dreams and empty pockets.

“We have spent every dollar we had earned in Australia on course fees and legal expenses. I could go for another course that would extend my visa, but I have neither money nor the will to put myself through this again,” she told SBS Punjabi.

“All we wanted a respectable life for our family here. We have worked hard, did everything by the book and this is what we get- my life has been ruined. And those greedy employers are going about business as usual. Nothing has changed for them,” she says. 

She said her uncertain visa status kept her from complaining to the immigration department.

“I am feeling so helpless with these employers wielding so much power over our lives. I wish the Government does something to stop this exploitation of people like us who are like a mere fodder for these businesses, meant to be used and discarded.”

According to the Department of Home Affairs, accepting or paying money for visa sponsorships is illegal.

In penalties introduced in December 2015, employers or middlemen asking for money in exchange for visa sponsorship face civil and criminal action.

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