EMPLOYERS SPONSORING foreigners to work for them in Australia are exposing their businesses to risks with potentially catastrophic financial consequences, according to a local immigration law specialist.
Temporary Business (Long Stay) Visas (the so-called “457” visa) allow Australian employers to sponsor foreigners to come and work for them for a period of up to four years. With talk of the skills shortage in Australia set to continue, an estimated 80,000 of this class of visa will be granted to foreigners and their immediate dependants this financial year.
Craig Nicholls, a partner at law firm Hunt & Hunt, said although temporary business visas are significantly easier to obtain than Permanent Residence visas, and therefore a popular means of filling short-term skills gaps in the local market, employers sponsoring foreigners on these visas need to be mindful of a number of potential liabilities and financial implications.
“In becoming an approved sponsor of foreign workers, employers agree to meet medical and hospital expenses if they are not covered by private health cover, as well as any debts owed to the Commonwealth Government by the worker or their immediate family,” he said. For instance, Nicholls said a person on a 457 visa does not enjoy Medicare privileges, nor are they required to take out private health cover while in Australia.
“Therefore, if they or any of their family members are injured, or taken seriously ill, and have not taken out private medical cover, the sponsoring employer is legally responsible to cover their hospital and medical expenses.”
Nicholls described a couple of real-life scenarios in which individuals on temporary business visas had been hospitalised — one following an accident and the other a major heart attack. As neither of the individuals had taken out private health cover, their employers were exposed to medical and related bills in excess of $70,000 in each case.
“Such an expense can be crippling, if not catastrophic, for a business, especially a small business,” he said.
He said although some companies may well have policies in place regarding conditions of employment for sponsored foreign staff members, such as being required to take out private health cover, often they do not have the systems or processes in place to check that these policies were being maintained.
Craig Donaldson is Editor of Lawyers Weekly’ssister publiaction, Human Resources magazine.
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