“Let me be clear right now: There is a crisis of exploitation in Australia. Too many workers are forced to confront vulnerability created by our visa system. This means more wage theft for workers.

Australians and people who hold temporary visas alike.

Over the past 25 years, a collection of rules combined with apathy when it comes to enforcement has created deep seated exploitation of workers.

And people too terrified to speak out when they are mistreated.

Every day as Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, and Multicultural Affairs, I hear, see, and read stories of mistreatment and exploitation.

Empty promises of permanent residency to silence workers.

Wage theft left unchecked and unopposed with threats of a phone call to the Australian Border Force.

People scared to speak to a union, or even to call in sick.”

– Minister Giles on 5 June 2023

In a speech earlier this month, Minister Giles announced that changes will be coming that will allow subclass 482 visa holders an increased timeframe to find new sponsorship where they are no longer employed by their original sponsor.

The changes will enable sponsored employees up to 6 months to be without an employer whilst having full working rights.

Long overdue

For decades, the temporary work visa has been an ongoing concern for unions and other industry groups who understand the fundamental controls that apply to a sponsored work visa can lead to exploitation.  Whilst many employers are compliant and genuinely seek to provide a great employee experience, there are countless stories of exploitation that have circulated.

This change gives employees greater freedom to find their fit and assimilate into the working culture.  Moreover, in circumstances where a sponsored visa holder does not feel that the role or company is suitable, they are now able to terminate their employment with the knowledge that they have up to 6 months to find alternative work whilst maintaining full work rights.

Changing the sponsored employment paradigm

As in many workplaces, disputes and unforeseen circumstances can impact an individual’s job at any time.  The proposed changes will allow visa holders to continue to remain in Australia lawfully whilst they try to seek a new sponsor or round up their affairs in Australia. The 6-month grace period will allow workers significantly more time to seek gainful employment in their occupation, as 60 days is a timeframe that has prejudiced the visa holder.

Sponsored employees may feel empowered to leave exploitative employers with much greater confidence in their ability to find a new role (should they choose).  Considering the skills shortage, it is likely that businesses that have not previously been business sponsors will encounter workers seeking sponsorship. That said, there remains potential for a business to exploit a worker during the period between commencing work for the business and becoming sponsored.

On the one hand, the change will allow the potential sponsor to assess the employee’s suitability which may attract more employers to become standard business sponsors (as the initial costs for the probation period are reduced). On the other hand, the visa holder is still in a vulnerable position as the employer may not have enough incentives to sponsor them and pay more (above the new TSMIT) for the first six months.

Larger transient employee pool

With a much longer period to be without an employer, there will be a larger pool of subclass 482 visa holders able to meet talent shortages, thereby giving both employees and employers a ‘try before you buy’ approach.

Although the premise for the extension is to allow exploited workers an opportunity to call out exploiting sponsors, an unintended consequence of the extension may help keep skills in Australia by allowing those that may have been made redundant, such as the many highly skilled technology workers in recent large layoffs, a greater opportunity to find new work to remain in and contributing to Australia.

High turnover industries

The hospitality industry may be more averse to hiring staff on subclass 482 visas under the Medium Term as the 4-year term comes with a significant price tag and businesses risk losing their investment if the employee leaves after 12 months.

As a longer grace period has been proposed by the new changes, some visa holders working in high-turnover industries (such as hospitality) may consider changing their employers for better work conditions and salary packages.  With the TSMIT increasing, we expect a recalibration of salaries in certain industries to align with the competition for talent.

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