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Ticking the right boxes when employing overseas staff

With the huge growth in aged care requirements in Australia, finding the right staff is already a challenge faced by many aged care facilities – and it’s only going to get tougher.

Add to this the current debate on staff ratios and the concern about the availability of suitably trained nurses in aged care, and recruitment is certainly a challenge that will be faced by the industry as a whole in the coming years.

Many aged care facilities are already turning overseas to recruit staff – it’s an obvious solution when suitable talent can’t be found locally. However, what challenges and dangers does this present to the organisation and what can be done to prevent them?

Employing overseas staff usually involves dealing with a visa of some description – including temporary, student and working holiday visas – and most business managers, even HR managers, are not visa experts. It’s not a reason to shy away from the option of employing workers from overseas, but it is essential to do the required homework and make sure all of the boxes are being ticked as required by local authorities.

Recently, there have been changes to the way visas are monitored in Australia and the penalties for non-compliance are significant, so it’s an important time for organisations to review their internal processes with regards to the initial checking and ongoing monitoring of the ‘right to work’ status of potential and current employees.

We’ve been working with a range of clients in the aged care industry on these issues and we continually come across organisations that are unaware or misinformed about key aspects of visa workers. Here are five key things you need to know to ensure your organisation isn’t at risk:

  • There are approximately two million temporary visitors in Australia at any given point in time. Think about the last person you hired. Did you question that person’s right to work in Australia? Doing so should be a standard part of your hiring procedure.
  • There is a requirement to establish a right to work in Australia and that responsibility falls on the employer, regardless of whether it’s paid/unpaid work or if the employee is sourced directly or via a HR contractor, labour hire or referral company.
  • Once an employee is hired, and proven to be compliant, regular checks are required to ensure that the employee’s visa status is still active. For businesses employing large numbers of visa workers, this is virtually impossible without some kind of automation/assistance from technology to alert HR to key review dates and issues.
  • The government has a new Immigration and Citizenship fraud reporting call centre, which serves as an avenue for anonymous whistleblowing on illegal work, along with a new data-matching initiative between the ATO and the Department of Home Affairs, which aims to crack down on foreign workers and businesses taking advantage of current migration legislation (knowingly or unknowingly!).
  • Penalties for non-compliance are expensive and can now fall directly on Company Directors. Employing illegal workers carries significant penalties, including fines for individuals of up to $63,000 and/or five years’ imprisonment and up to $315,000 for corporations per illegal worker.

If you’re unsure about risks that may apply to your situation, there are a few things you can do:

  • Contact Home Affairs and ask (or visit their website). It’s far better to be upfront and proactive about managing the situation than to make an error that the business will regret for years to come. Note: The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) was a government department that was responsible for immigration, citizenship and border control (including visa issuance). It has now been subsumed into the Department of Home Affairs, which combines its responsibilities with a number of other portfolios.
  • Contact a migration specialist. In Australia, the Migration Act legislates that it is illegal to provide migration advice, unless the person providing such advice is registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA).

Will Aldous is co-founder and managing director of CheckWorkRights, an Australian automated visa checking system.

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