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‘They control our fate’: Migrant faces deportation after employer sponsorship fails

Australian visa Source: SBS

A migrant worker who is facing deportation after his employer sold the business before a decision could be made on his visa application, says employer-sponsored visas put workers at the employers' mercy.

A Malaysian national who is facing deportation after his employer sold the business says Australia’s employer-sponsored visa system puts “too much power” in the hands of sponsoring employers.

37-year-old Samuel Lau, who came to Australia ten years ago as an international student, was refused a skilled visa under the regional sponsored migration scheme after the restaurant that sponsored him to work as a commercial cook was sold off before a decision could be made on his visa application.

“I worked at this restaurant for a year and worked very hard in this job. I was hoping to finally get my permanent residency but then the owner just decided to sell the business because she said she was going through a divorce,” Mr Lau said.

Samuel Lau's application for an RSMS visa was refused after his employer sold the business.

He has been given until 25th October to leave Australia after the Department of Home Affairs decided that his request for a ministerial intervention would not be referred to the Immigration Minister. But Mr Lau is now calling on Minister David Coleman through an online petition to let him stay in the country.

“I am saying that I did everything right and these circumstances that led to my visa refusal were beyond my control. I have given ten years of my life to Australia – my prime, and contributed to the society without ever taking anything from the country,” he says.

But Mr Lau also rues that the time taken to process his visa application was “too long” and the resultant uncertainty puts sponsored visa applicants in a position where they are at the employer's mercy. 

“I submitted my application in June 2016 and the decision came out in April 2018. During this period, they [the employer] are the masters of your fate. In my case, I begged my employer to wait for just a couple of months before selling the business, but it seemed my life just didn’t matter to her,” he said.

The RSMS visa will be closed for new applicants in November. According to information published on the Department of Home Affairs website, the current processing time for this visa is 20-24 months.

SBS Punjabi previously reported the story of a Chinese chef who found herself in this position, not once but twice, working at high profile restaurants.

Mira Chen was a chef at Jamie’s Italian in Sydney. She moved to Perth and was sponsored to work there as a chef. But the company that owned the business went into voluntary administration before her visa application could be decided.

“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.

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.

After Ms Chen moved to Canberra with her husband and started working at there, Jamie’s Italian shut down its Canberra restaurant in April last year -  once again before her visa application could be decided.

“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 rued.

Representative image of a chef in a restaurant.

Ms Chen had to leave Australia in May 2019. 

Melbourne migration agent Ranbir Singh says over half of his clients who applied for employer-sponsored visa faced issues.

“It’s a very widespread problem because employers control all the switches. They can pull the plug on a visa sponsorship any time,” he told SBS Punjabi.

The RSMS visa is being discontinued and in November 2019 when two new regional visas will be made available. Under the arrangement, visa holders have to live and work in regional Australia for at least three years before they can apply for permanent residency.

Mr Singh says increasing the mandatory residence period for eligibility for a permanent visa will lead to the exploitation of temporary migrants.

“We already have numerous cases where temporary visa holders face exploitation at the hands of employers with a two-year minimum period. Now that it’s increasing to three years, I can imagine the exploitation and abuse increasing,” Mr Singh says. 

Many temporary visa holders are underpaid and made to work long hours without paying them overtime. A report by the Migrant Workers' Taskforce found earlier this year, that nearly half of all migrant workers in Australia were underpaid.

The report recommended criminal sanctions against employers in “most serious forms of exploitative conduct”.

The Federal Government has accepted the report’s 22 recommendations, including enhancing penalties for erring employers. But the employer groups oppose the move. The Attorney General’s department is currently receiving submissions for the draft law to criminalise wage theft.

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