With immigration policy taking priority at the recent Jobs Summit, Dr. Abul Rizvi discussed solutions to some of Australia’s problems, focusing on the exploitation of migrant workers.
THE SECOND DAY of the Jobs Summit was dominated by discussion of immigration policy.
The key results were an increase in the migration program in 2022-23 from 160,000 to 195,000.
While this will be the largest migration program in our history, permanent migration is likely to make a relatively modest contribution to net migration in 2022.
This is because a large part of the programme, possibly 60 to 70 per cent, will go to people who have been living in Australia for many years.
The broader program is really about the Government’s desire to prioritize permanent migration and begin the process of reducing the number of people in ‘immigration limbo’.
At the Summit, I tried to point out how much more needs to be done in this regard and, in particular, to address the problem of the exploitation of migrant workers.
The following is the statement I made at the Summit:
Since 2015, Australia experienced the largest labor trafficking scam in our history, manipulating the asylum system to provide easily exploitable migrant labour.
As a result, we now have around 100,000 people in the asylum system, the vast majority of whom will be denied protection but will not return home.
We have also been expanding low-skilled guest worker visas, particularly for agricultural work.
Due to appalling treatment, thousands of Pacific Island farmworkers have fled their employers.
Thousands have applied for asylum to maintain their legal status, but have been denied.
This is very similar to the situation in North America and Europe over the last 30 or 40 years, where there are millions of terribly exploited migrant workers, some on visas but many now undocumented after unsuccessfully applying for asylum.
They live permanently in the shadows of society.
In June and July this year, Australia received by far the highest level of overseas student visa applications than any previous June or July in our history.
We are headed for the largest increase in overseas student visa applications in history. Students may contribute more to population growth in 2022 than permanent migration or even natural increase.
That’s due to the fact that we offer the most generous student visa work rights of any comparable country.
In the medium to long term, that could spell disaster for many students who may struggle to secure skilled jobs and a path to permanent residency: They will be stuck in immigration limbo, particularly if there is an economic downturn in 2023- 24.
They too will be vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
The government has said it does not want Australia to become a society of low-skilled temporary workers.
That’s a lofty ambition, but I’m afraid that train left the station ten years ago.
Like North America and Europe, we are now at full speed to become a full-fledged low-skilled guest worker society.
And like North America and Europe, we have completely failed to put in place adequate arrangements to protect those workers.
For a proud migrant nation, we should be ashamed of that.
We can and must strengthen laws and funding to address exploitation and abuse.
But unless we give trade unions a strong formal role in protecting migrant workers, I can guarantee we are going to fail.
This is because only unions have the footprint and ability to gain the trust of workers to be able to provide adequate support and protection.
Will this Summit have the courage to recognize it?
One of the outcomes of the Summit is a commitment to address the problem of the exploitation of migrant workers.
It will be important that this is given priority.
Dr. Abul Rizvi is a freelance columnist from Australia and former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @Rizvi Abul.
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