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Flawed visa system locks survivors out of services

  • Published on
    July 24, 2023
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  • Category:
    Law & Policy
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The Australian government recently introduced new measures aimed at protecting migrant workers at risk of exploitation. But new research by Nerida Chazal and Kyla Raby, researchers at the University of South Australia, points to the visa system itself as inflicting harm on migrants if they do experience exploitation by limiting their access to needed services. 

In addition, the temporary visas granted to survivors makes finding a job difficult and leads to a life of insecurity as their case is processed, which can take years. On top of that, being unable to access vital support or find a job leaves survivors desperate, greatly increasing their risk of re-exploitation.

Modern slavery visa framework protects the system not survivors 

More than half of modern slavery survivors in Australia are migrants. The way the system is currently designed, rather than supporting survivors, it often replicates inequalities at the heart of modern slavery in Australia.

As most survivors in Australia are migrants, they arrive on a temporary visa. Their insecure visa status can be leveraged by unscrupulous employers to keep victims working for low pay or putting up with exploitative conditions. Current modern slavery framework enables migrants who are victims of exploitation to get a longer-term temporary visa if they are willing to give evidence against their perpetrator. But shockingly that doesn’t mean survivors get the support services they need to rebuild their lives, like access to healthcare and income assistance.

One caseworker explained in the Conversation:

“[Your] visa in Australia determines access to services. If it’s health, if it’s education, anything, it determines what happens next. The outcomes are not as good for people on temporary visas where they cannot access those payments.”

The research describes how survivors without access to these services are left in a limbo state, feeling destitute and desperate to try and rebuild their lives. Securing appropriate housing is also almost impossible with a temporary visa. These factors combine to not only prevent survivors from moving on from their exploitation, but leaving them extremely vulnerable to further abusive situations. 

Destitute, desperate and in a state of limbo

Australia’s federal modern slavery framework needs to shift from applying “fixes” but maintaining the system and put survivor support and care front and center. Current legislation not only makes support contingent on being willing to work with law enforcement, it entrenches survivors in a state of uncertainty unable to regain their independence after exploitation. 

According to one caseworker:

“People that have faced any type of exploitation may fear authority and will be reluctant to go to the police to initiate any type of support, or they might be having a lot of fear in terms of the consequences of an insecure or unknown immigration status.”

Freedom United stands with other anti-trafficking advocates in calling for an appropriate response to survivor needs towards their recovery from exploitation. This includes:

  • guaranteed access to specialized support
  • swift access to permanent visas
  • clear pathways to residency

The new measures recently introduced are a step in the right direction and Freedom United applauds the effort, but more is needed. Without legislative changes that address the needs above, the system remains one that reproduces the same dangerous situation that led to survivors being exploited in the first place. 

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11 months ago

If you get married with an Australian you get a bridging visa, then a temporary partner Visa which in my case took more than two years and after you are on a partner Visa for 2 or 3 more years. You have access to health care and can work with a partner Visa BUT you are dependent on your partner visa wise which creates an unhealthy situation where often domestic violence comes into play. Australia has a lot of dv services but no real practical help and no guaranteed protection that you can stay.

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