As immigration policy took precedence at the recent Jobs Summit, Dr Abul Rizvi discussed solutions to some of Australia's problems, with a focus on migrant worker exploitation.
THE SECOND DAY of the Jobs Summit was dominated by discussion of immigration policy.
The key outcomes 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.
That is because a large part of the program, possibly 60 to 70 per cent, will go to people who have been living in Australia for many years.
The larger program is really about the Government’s desire to prioritise 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 that regard and in particular to address the problem of migrant worker exploitation.
The following is the statement I made at the Summit:
From 2015, Australia experienced the biggest labour trafficking scam in our history, manipulating the asylum system to supply 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 refused protection but will not be going home.
We have also been expanding low skill guest worker visas, particularly for farm labour.
Due to appalling treatment, thousands of Pacific Island farm workers have run away from their employers.
Thousands have applied for asylum to maintain their lawful status but are being refused.
This is very similar to the situation in North America and Europe for the past 30-40 years where there are millions of appallingly 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 offshore student visa applications than for any previous June or July in our history.
We are headed towards the biggest surge in offshore student visa applications ever. Students may contribute more to population growth in 2022 than either permanent migration or even natural increase.
That is being driven by the fact we offer the most generous student visa work rights of any comparable country.
In the medium to long-term, that could be a disaster for many students who may struggle to secure skilled jobs and a pathway to permanent residence — 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 low skill guest worker society.
That is a noble ambition but I am afraid that train left the station ten years ago.
Like North America and Europe, we are now barrelling towards becoming a fully-fledged low skill guest worker society.
And like North America and Europe, we have utterly 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 should strengthen laws and funding to address exploitation and abuse.
But unless we give unions a strong formal role in protecting migrant workers, I can guarantee we will fail.
That is because only unions have the footprint and the capacity to gain trust of the workers to be able to provide adequate support and protection.
Will this Summit have the courage to recognise that?
One of the outcomes of the Summit is a commitment to address the issue of migrant worker exploitation.
It will be important that this is given priority.
Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.
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