The cost of the Australian dream, for many international workers, is becoming increasingly unobtainable. Australian legal experts and business leaders are calling on the government to relax the conditions on working visas, and provide comprehensive avenues for appeal for those who are being arbitrarily removed.
Erskine Rodan, owner of Erskine Rodan & Associates and Chairman of the Migration Law Committee of the Law Council of Australia and business leaders including The Beanstalk Factory’s Pete Bradd and Atlassian’s Mike Cannon Brookes are calling on the government to relax the conditions on working visas, and provide comprehensive avenues for appeal for those who are being arbitrarily removed.
SBS has spoken to eleven Australian migrants on the condition of anonymity who describe having to jump through “bureaucratic hoops” to satisfy the requirements of their visas, costing thousands of dollars in legal fees and appeals.
The cost of living is significantly more expensive for migrants and refugees than it is for Australian residents. Migrants and those granted asylum pay a higher rate of tax, though they do not qualify for any concessions.
International students pay two to three times what local university students pay for their degrees.
Workers with children pay $5000 per year per child for public school. Private school fees often become prohibitively expensive.
I would have stayed in Australia had I been granted permanent residency because it genuinely felt like home to me.
Work visas have a compulsory two-month waiting period between jobs, during which time you are not allowed to work, meaning that migrants are forced to rely on their savings or under-the-table cash jobs to fill in the gap. Those with job offers on the table risk losing the position because they cannot start straight-away.
Those who are lucky enough to remain here describe living in a climate of high anxiety, unable to maintain long-term relationships or plan for their future.
Devi* (not her real name), an Indian relationship manager for International Corporates at a large multinational bank, lived in Australia for seven years but relocated to Singapore after her job was removed from the Skilled Occupation List, having spent $6000 on legal fees.
"I had no ‘second home’ to go to,” she says, having left India for Australia at 17. “I would have stayed in Australia had I been granted permanent residency because it genuinely felt like home to me.”
Devi says the decision to cancel her visa made no economic sense. “I bring in millions of dollars worth of onshore revenue annually, which is revenue I could have been bringing into Australia,” she says.
Indian migrant and Macquarie University accounting student, Harvin Shah was forced to turn down a full time job at Jones Partners Insolvency firm because his visa restricted him to 20 hours a week.
"Because of the stringent immigration requirements, unnecessary and senseless financial burden on the employer that my job didn't materialise,” he tells SBS. “Shouldn't a genuine employer offering me a job, sufficient enough requirement to be able to work?"
Owner & principal of Jones Partners Bruce Gleeson tells SBS his company didn’t often hire skilled workers but that “Harvin was the exception.
“It would have been great if we could have offered him the role,” he says.
A 41-year-old Scottish contractor who has lived and worked in Australia for 12 years says he lost out on 15 different job offers because of issues with his 457 visa.
The Scotsman also pays $120 a month on compulsory private health insurance, even though he is already covered through a reciprocal arrangement between the Australian and UK governments.
“I earn good money,” he tells SBS. “Very good money. I’ve worked for some of the country's biggest telcos and energy companies, but the visa thing was always a problem.
Delays in decision making and appeals – up to 18 months - can be emotionally and financially crippling for people trying to live here.
“You’d think you’d want people working and earning and paying tax. I really just want to live in this country. I worry every day.
“If I lose my job or get made redundant, I have three months to find a new role or I have to find a new country.”
Thirty-year-old American communications analyst, Lettie* (not her real name), was forced to return to the US after her 485 visa was cancelled on a technicality: Her name had been misspelled on the police background check.
“I was given 30 days to leave,” she says.
“I had all the necessary points to gain citizenship, but the agent never returned my calls or emails. I thought that if I explained why I sent in two police background checks, he would understand, but I never got the chance.”
The communication analyst said she gave up everything when she left. “It took me at least a year to sort my life out; I essentially lost a year of productivity.”
Eva Massie, a French mechanical engineer accepted a job at the Germany-based, American company Itron Group after turning down an internship at Australia’s NICTA due to the “complicated” application process, cost of living issues and the deadline of the competing offer.
“If felt like they wanted to keep me out,” she says. “The whole process I had to go through. It had nothing to do with what I wanted to do.”
An internship for the Itron Group would subsequently turn into a job offer which she accepted“because Germany is completely open for foreign workers”.
Erskine Rodan, owner of Erskine Rodan & Associates and Chairman of the Migration Law Committee of the Law Council of Australia tells SBS the merging of Customs and Border Protection has “affected the quality of decision making at a visa level.
“Delays in decision making and appeals – up to 18 months - can be emotionally and financially crippling for people trying to live here,” he said. It’s really a waste of time and resources.
“They do need a stronger appeal service and access to accurate legal advice and an Immigration Department that makes sensible, consistent decisions in a reasonable amount of time, with ease of access.”
Pete Bradd, CEO of the Beanstalk Factory and Chairman of StartupAus tells SBS that increasing skilled migration is “crucial” to Australia’s economy but that the process was “difficult, long, clunky and expensive” compared to countries like Israel, China or America.
“It puts our firms at a disadvantage to other countries,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection tells SBS it is concerned about worker exploitation and the fact some employers have been abusing the system.
“As a result, integrity measures have been tightened to ensure overseas workers are skilled and filling genuine shortages, not taking jobs that should be going to Australians,” the spokesperson said.
“However, companies that have a track record of employing and training Australians and can show a genuine skill shortage have little difficulty in proving their case. The Government is routinely consulting with the industry to streamline the process for companies, while maintaining the integrity of the system.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, NICTA & Data 61 have not responded to SBS’s requests for comment.
Thriller Safe Harbour airs over four weeks, exploring issues facing asylum seekers once they settle in Australia. All episodes will be available after broadcast anytime, anywhere, for free via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation with #SafeHarbour. Watch episode one now: