Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Migration Amendment (Charging for a Migration Outcome) Bill 2015; Second Reading
I thank senators for their contribution to this debate. The purpose of the Migration Amendment (Charging for a Migration Outcome) Bill 2015 is to amend the Migration Act 1958, to introduce a new criminal and civil penalty regime that will make it unlawful for a person to ask for, receive, offer or provide payment or other benefits in return for a range of sponsorship related events. The bill also allows visa cancellation to be considered where the visa holder has engaged in such conduct, referred to as 'payment for visas' conduct.
This bill reflects the key integrity recommendation of the independent review into integrity in the subclass 457 program: that it be made unlawful for a sponsor to be paid by visa applicants for a migration outcome and that this be reinforced by a robust penalty and conviction framework. This bill will apply to a range of temporary sponsored work visas and skilled permanent employer sponsored visas, where payment for visas conduct is known to occur, including the 457 visa and the 186 and 187 permanent employer sponsored visas.
The practice of giving or receiving a benefit in return for a visa sponsorship can have serious detrimental effects. These include making vulnerable non-citizens liable to exploitation; reducing employment opportunities in Australia and putting downward pressure on wages and conditions for citizens and permanent residents; allowing persons who receive a payment in return for sponsorship to inappropriately make significant financial gains; and adversely affecting the integrity of Australia’s migration program.
Payment for visas conduct is not currently unlawful. It is, however, unacceptable to the government and the Australian people because it undermines the genuine purposes for which visas are intended to be granted. This bill will strengthen the integrity of Australia's migration program by deterring payment for visas conduct and allowing action to be taken where such conduct has occurred. The regime of offences, civil penalties and discretionary visa cancellation provided for in the bill will allow the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to take action against unscrupulous people across a broad spectrum of payment for visas conduct.
The proposed amendments protect Australian workers, because they ensure that overseas workers who are employed in Australia and who may eventually gain permanent residence do so on the basis of genuine skills and need rather than because they have paid their employer. The proposed amendments protect overseas workers from exploitation by sponsors who threaten to withdraw their support in the visa or employment process if payment is not forthcoming. Employment opportunities in Australia should be earned not sold, and the employment of foreign workers should not act to undercut Australia's wages and conditions.
I note that the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee have recommended passing the bill without amendments. They have also recommended the government undertake a broad information campaign to ensure that migration agents, sponsors and visa applicants understand the requirements of the bill. The government accepts and will implement this recommendation. I would like to thank the committee for their work. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.