CANBERRA, Australia — Dodgy bosses who exploit migrant farm workers will face new criminal offenses and fines under a proposed crackdown on misconduct.

The Morrison government has released draft legislation for consultation ahead of a dedicated agriculture visa being introduced later in the year. Using people’s immigration status to coerce workers will be outlawed, along with pressuring people to accept employment conditions that breach visa conditions.

The draft bill also bans employers who break the law from employing new migrant workers for a specified period. Civil penalties for breaches of migration laws will be increased.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the government wanted to ensure Australia maintained a strong reputation as a destination for working holidaymakers, students, and skilled migrants.

“We know the majority of Australian businesses and employers do the right thing, but there are still a few unscrupulous employers who find ways to exploit migrants,” he said on July 26.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the government wanted to ensure Australia maintained a strong reputation as a destination for working holiday makers, students, and skilled migrants. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image)

Employers, labor hire companies, and other referral agencies will be required to use an online verification system to ensure appropriate visa conditions and immigration status checks.

The Australian Border Force will be handed new compliance tools to work with employers and labor hire companies employing migrant workers.

The government has also changed regulations to discourage backpackers from working for dodgy employers convicted of safety and welfare breaches.

Working for those businesses will not count towards receiving a second or third working holidaymaker visa. The exclusion would only apply to work undertaken after the business is listed.

The Department of Home Affairs will also implement enhanced communication channels to allow visa holders to easily check employers’ status.

A specified business will be provided a right of reply before being listed. Consultation on the legislation’s exposure draft will be open until August 16.

Temporary migrants comprise approximately 11 percent of Australia’s workforce. In times of economic downturn, history shows us that temporary migrant workers will be among some of the first to be displaced as businesses struggle to remain viable, as per a report in March 2020, when the pandemic was looming.

There were over 7.6 million migrants living in Australia by April 2021, as per the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports.

“29.8 percent of Australia’s population were born overseas,” states the report. “Australia’s population increased by 194,400 people due to net overseas migration. 368,700 people moved interstate, a decrease of 8.7 percent from 2020.”

“England (980,400) continued to be the largest group of overseas-born living in Australia. However, this decreased from just over a million, recorded throughout the period 2012 to 2016. Those born in India (721,000) were in second place, with an increase of 56,300 people.

The government of Australia assumes net overseas migration will remain stable at 215,000 people per year, down from a peak of 300,000 in 2008-09.

Edited by Saptak Datta and Ritaban Misra

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