Fifty Indian workers have been found by Immigration officials to be working illegally in Australia since last July even as Immigration Minister Chris Evans on Friday warned severe penalties would be imposed on people who hired workers without proper working visas.
"Rogue employers face fines of up to A$13,200 (US$12,834) and two years' imprisonment while companies face fines of up to A$66,000 per illegal worker," the immigration minister said.
The highest number of illegal workers was from Malaysia, 374, followed by China (145), Indonesia (89), Britain (67), Philippines (51), India (50), Vietnam (48), Thailand (44) South Korea (32) and Ireland (21).
Immigration officials found 1,179 illegal workers in all in the nine months to March 31, with the south-eastern state of Victoria found to be the state of choice for illegal workers.
Last month, 11 illegal Indian workers were deported after being caught in Riverina in the state of New South Wales by the department of immigration and citizenship officials, who also found evidence of possible exploitation by employers.
Recently, six Indian nationals in the country illegally, three men and three women, were detained in Griffith in Queensland. Four more Indian nationals, three men and a woman, were detained for working in breach of their visa conditions in Hillston, New South Wales, while an Indian man and a Pakistani man were also found to be "unlawful non-citizens".
In March this year, a Sydney restaurateur, who had been ordered to serve a suspended jail sentence in November 2007 for falsifying immigration documents to bring an Indian chef to Australia, was fined A$18,200 for exploiting the worker.
A report in the May issue of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union's (CFMEU) national bulletin said that many of the illegal workers have to work long hours even to get sub-standard wages. It gave the example of an Indian, Mohammed Nayeem.
Nayeem, who is a metal fabricator, received the standard 38 hours' pay for 50 hours work per week, minus the A$100 that his employer deducted for 'accommodation' (a two-bedroom converted office shared with five other workers).
When Nayeem asked for his overtime pay for the third time, he was sacked and told: "I will break your legs and send you back to India".
Last month CFMEU national secretary John Sutton had told IANS: "Workers on 457 (worker) visa should get the same pay, benefits and conditions as local workers. The government was being pressured by employers to increasingly use the scheme for recruiting low-wage workers from countries such as India, China and the Philippines."
The minister for immigration and citizenship has said a bill will be introduced in parliament later this year to better define employers' obligations and employees' rights under the temporary skilled migration programme.
"We intend to expand the range of sanctions that may be imposed on unscrupulous employers by allowing the department to pursue financial penalties against employers who breach their sponsorship obligations," minister Evans had said.
The minimum salary levels (MSLs) for temporary skilled overseas workers will increase by 3.8 per cent beginning Aug 1. For example, the MSL for ICT professionals will rise from A$57,300 to A$59,480.
India has become the third largest source of international immigrants and second largest source of skilled migrants and international students to Australia.