A migration agent has told SBS Punjabi that instances of fraud in employer-sponsored visas are "extremely high". Many applicants seeking employer-sponsored visas have been left in limbo by employers who sold their businesses even as visa applications were still being processed.
“So close, yet so far” is how Wei "Mira" Chen, a Chinese national describes her situation after failing to get a permanent Australian visa twice despite having been sponsored by a reputed employer.
The 29-year-old found a job as a junior chef at Jamie’s Italian restaurant in Sydney during her industry training and was later transferred to a restaurant in Perth that was short on experienced staff. In December 2015, the company sponsored her under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) for a permanent visa.
“I flew to Perth to start my new life in Perth just two weeks after my graduation,” she tells SBS Punjabi.
While her visa application was still under process, the Keystone Group that owned six Jamie's Italian restaurants in Australia, went into voluntary administration in mid-2016 and was no longer able to guarantee her employment for two years as per her employment offer.
“The processing time for an RSMS visa was 13 months at that time and it had been just about six months since I started my job. My visa application was refused by the Immigration Department because my job wasn’t certain,” she said.
“What makes it worse, Perth had been removed from regional areas in March 2017, which means RSMS visa is no longer available in Perth metro area.”
While she continued to work at the Perth restaurant, the Australian chain was bought back by Jamie's Italian Restaurant Group in 2017 and her new employer once again sponsored Ms Chen’s RSMS visa to work at the company’s restaurant in Canberra.
“My husband and I moved a long way from the east coast to the west coast, and back to the east coast again. We travelled six days driving from Perth to for this job and settled down in Canberra,” she said.
But she had another setback in April this year when Jamie’s Italian shutdown its Canberra restaurant before a decision on Ms Chen’s visa application was made. She says the staff weren’t given any notice before ending their employment.
“The company terminated our contract in an improper manner- I felt like being dumped as garbage when I was told over a phone call not to come to work,” Ms Chen says.
Her second application for a visa sponsorship while working at the same restaurant was refused last month. She is now fighting for compensation for her leave entitlement and mandatory notice period.
The Department of Home Affairs, in refusing her visa, acknowledged that Ms Chen had been “negatively impacted” by circumstances that were outside of her control.
“She has been negatively impacted by two businesses running the same restaurant group going into administration over a period of 2.5 years. However, these factors could not override the requirements of the nomination application,” a Department official said while refusing her visa nomination.
“I failed in my visa attempt twice in the same business where I had been working for three years, in three different cities, from east to west, and now I have ended up with a situation that I am forced to leave the country without any entitlements paid,” she rues.
Samuel Lau, a Malaysian national is also in the same situation. His June 2016 application for an RSMS visa was refused after a Perth restaurant that sponsored him decided to shut shop in March 2018 while his application was still being processed.
Thirty-seven-year-old Mr Lau, currently earning a living by driving for Uber, says the experience has left him fearful of such arrangements where everything depends on the employer.
“It’s so unfair. I did everything right and the employer just sells his business and I got caught up in the situation,” Mr Lau tells SBS Punjabi. “I can’t go through this again because another shifty employer may do the same.”
Mr Lau has appealed the decision in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and also applied to the Immigration Minister for his intervention.
Jujhar Bajwa of Bajwa Immigration Consultants says the processing times for the visa have ballooned in recent years.
“Until four or five years ago, these visas were granted within a month. However, the Department has recently made us aware of its concerns about a high incidence of fraud in this category,” he says.
Mr Bajwa says employer nominated visas are “inherently risky”.
“In these visas, everything depends on the employer. We see many such cases where businesses are sold while nomination applications are still under process,” Mr Bajwa says.
He says refusal rates of RSMS applications are very high.
“Nearly seven out of ten RSMS applications are refused due to concerns about the company’s finances and the employers’ ability to pay an employee for two years on an on-going basis.”
Ms Chen says a long waiting period for visa processing is as much responsible for her situation as her employers shutting the business.
“The longer it takes the riskier it gets for applicants who have no control over the business. I did nothing wrong but ended up wasting my time, money, the hard work in vain and there is nothing I can do about it,” she says.
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