Sunday, May 16, 2004

Business-migrant visa abuse in Australia

This* is a migration racket, under any definition.

Of the many problematic consequences that flow from it, my view is that one of the main ones nominated, the supposed increased risk of terrorists slipping into Australia, should not even register on the scale of concern. After all, it is not the bona fides of the people coming in that is of concern here – they are, it would seem, all properly-qualified Indian nationals (as opposed to, say, Saudi “theologians”).

What is of pressing concern, rather, is the highly-organised level of this form of people-smuggling. The Indian nationals do not enter on tourist visas, and then simply stay on, working illegally. As it turns out, they would be no more illegal (and actually a lot better off, financially) doing this than entering Australia on a 457 business visa, and then going to work as $8/hour cleaners or kitchenhands.

The reason that they don’t enter via the former route, of course, is that there is little profit to be made by middlemen in such a “DIY” way. Instead, the pawns of the trade are groomed as hopeful business migrants by crime syndicates playing the old, old game of double agent. The hefty upfront (= while still in India) fee is handed over in good faith, but the agent knows that this is usually only the start of their remuneration – after the victim lands in Australia, he can be effectively held to ransom.

In this way, the business visa racket, trade has similarities to sex slave trafficking, with its legally (and morally) obscene notion of paying off a “contract” price#. In both, the victim is effectively stuck in Australia, working illegally. On the other hand, the Indian (ex-) professionals are not literally locked-up, and (it can be assumed) would have much easier access to the financial resources needed to repatriate themselves (= “buy their freedom”) than young women or girls from Thailand’s backblocks.

Nonetheless, one can empathise with the severity of the predicament that a third-world professional finds themselves in when, after paying out their (or their family’s) life savings to migrate to a supposed land of opportunity, they find themselves caught in a no-easy-way-out trap of illegality and exploitation.

Were they naïve, though, in getting caught up in the scam in the first place – and so should be partially blameable as the authors of their own misfortune? To the extent that the people in question are far from being impressionable Thai village girls, “yes”. But consider the pressures Indian professionals are coming under, from another direction: that of the outsourcing industry. It amazes me that one obvious element of the economics of outsourcing hardly ever gets mentioned – Indian IT (et al) workers know they’re getting paid a relative pittance (even after factoring-in India’s lower cost of living), and so with their skills at Western levels, would dearly love to be paid at Western rates; which is only in turn possible, of course, by actually living in the West.

Indeed, an Indian IT worker’s understandably prominent thoughts of emigration are far from idle ones – for at least some in the outsourcing industry, this is a handy “bait” useable for keeping Indian workers labouring harder, for less. According to Geoff Walsh, the Melbourne partner of Singapore-based business consultants, Quest:

The Indians have a first class grasp of English and are desperate to produce such a high quality of work that they will be sponsored to go abroad.**

In summary – pro-globalisation proponents might care to draw the line where the legitimate business (of outsourcing and migration-agenting) stops and the organised crime begins in this one (I sure as hell can’t). And as a big-money criminal enterprises whose fiefdoms entail very little downside, it can be safely assumed that Australian public officials are part of these groups’ (otherwise-minimal) payrolls.

Finally, the issues here are not only to do with high-level corruption and it consequences – Australia’s army of white-collar emigrants turned blue-collar slaves may help explain why, in this time of supposedly low unemployment, there are about ten unsuccessful applicants (including me) for a typical minimum-award-wage ($13 per hour) blue-collar job.

* See also: Elisabeth Wynhausen "Lost in a land of promises" The Australian 15 May 2004 (no URL), and Elisabeth Wynhausen "Illegal cleaning workers here on business visas" The Australian 10 April 2004 (no URL)

** Rowan Callick “Indians on line as firms dial a researcher” AFR 1 December 2003 (no URL)

# A de-archived post is reproduced below:

{{{{ Saturday, April 05, 2003
Sex slavery and freedom of contract,5744,6165092%255E2702,00.html§ion=current&issue=2003-0405&id=2963
(link via )

According to Phelim McAleer, the Financial Times (UK) Bucharest stringer, sex-slavery, at least as it concerns Eastern European women, is a myth – the women are no different from any other voluntary economic migrant from an impoverished backwater. Apart from that – an obvious fact, but still one that McAleer could have pointed out – the women are working in the West illegally.

And there’s the rub. Women from the poorest places on earth may indeed possibly aspire to a rewarding career as a prostitute in the West – but they have no financial means to make such a dream happen. Apart from the cost of passage, forged documents will often need to be obtained. In practice, the latter is likely to be a mere value-adding exercise anyway, as the only logically possible financier of the woman’s passage will be a local criminal with deep connections in the destination country. In other words, even if the woman is the straightest, purest sort of economic migrant at the outset, she will be bonded to organised crime in the process of achieving her dream.

Which brings up what is euphemistically called the “contract”. In essence, this is a more-or-less arbitrary sum, set high enough to make the woman a slave for as long as she is economically useful, and yet low enough for the woman to hold out some feint hope that she may one day be a free agent. (To serve tolerably as a prostitute, having such a glimmer of hope would be quite important.)

The Australian newspaper has been running an investigative story on the trafficking of sex slaves for the past three weeks, updating it more or less daily. Yet the story remains depressingly the same today as when it first broke. Today’s angle – Natalie O'Brien and Elisabeth Wynhausen “Bureaucrats ignored reviews sex slave sting” (no URL) – reinforces the policy of hardline, almost-complete apathy that the Federal Police and Immigration Department have both adopted on the issue; c.f:,4057,6240811%255E1702,00.html

Today’s article quotes a former Australian Federal Police officer who makes some good points. At least some of the trafficked women arrive as children – as in 12 years old, rather than 17 years and 11 months. Further, with the shopfront brothels they work in being matters of public record, tracing the perpetrators of the trafficking should not actually be that difficult. Hence, this particular instance of bureaucratic apathy is not simply a scandal petite; it is a cover-up of the highest order.

Never mind the Tampa (and a host of other dubious-ities that Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has been intimately involved with). This is a simple, clear-cut issue of organised crime apparently acting with governmental fiat. Ruddock should immediately resign, and an inquiry should thereafter be launched, with a view to getting rid of the corrupt officials who logically must be currently mandating sex trafficking.

My personal concern here is not mainly for the welfare of the women who are trafficked (although of course that is an issue for me) – the mere fact of the existence of apparently-untouchable organised crime groups permeates, and degrades every aspect of my life and rights as an Australian citizen.

- Paul Watson 5:03 PM }}}}}

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