Visa overstayers fly under the radar during federal election campaign – Australia Votes – Federal Election 2019 – Politics


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May 16, 2019 07:30:38

The Gold Coast is a famous destination for visitors from around the world, but its attraction sometimes means people stay a little too long.

So while major political parties often talk about asylum seekers and border protection, what about people who overstay their visas?

Andrew McDonald, a resident in the electorate of Moncrieff, posed this question to the ABC’s You Ask, We Answer project:

“There are more than 60,000 visa overstayers in the country. Most would be working. Most would not be paying income tax. How and when will the Government address this issue?”

So, let’s break it down.

How many ‘overstayers’ are in the country?

A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said as of June 30 last year, there were an estimated 62,900 people who were unlawfully in the community after overstaying a visa or having their visa cancelled.

“The vast majority of people coming to Australia comply with Australia’s migration laws,” the spokesperson said.

“More than 99 per cent of temporary visa holders leave Australia before their visa expires.”

People whose visas have expired are expected to leave the country.

“While the department will try to work with individuals to help them resolve their status, if an individual remains in Australia without a valid visa, they can be detained and removed from Australia and incur a cost to the Commonwealth for the cost of their removal,” the spokesperson said.

The rate of those who overstayed their visa was only around 0.2 per cent, with total numbers over the past five years fluctuating between 62,000 and 64,600.

People with expired visas did not have the right to work while they remained in Australia, the spokesperson said.

Gold Coast a magnet for visitors

The climate, lifestyle, people and the beaches are what makes the Gold Coast an attractive destination for overseas visitors.

Local migration expert Oliver Jones from Marino Law said there were a number of reasons why people overstayed their visas.

“Often you’ll see people who are overstaying lodge an application for a protection visa, which is effectively a refugee application on the basis of humanitarian grounds that there is a danger for them to return to their country of origin due to political violence and the like,” he said.

“The other type of visa that can be applied for when you have overstayed is a partner visa — if you do have a partner that it is willing to sponsor you — but you also need to show compelling and compassionate circumstances as to why you should be allowed to apply for that.”

Mr Jones said the longest case he had seen of someone overstaying was 13 years, and she was only brought to the authority’s attention when she applied for a partner visa.

Another case he mentioned was that of a Macedonian national who overstayed by six months and applied for a protection visa.

Industries like trade and hospitality were often abused with respect to cash payments and that the Gold Coast was an enticing location, Mr Jones said.

“Often they’re paid cash in hand to avoid detection by the Government because they can be detained and obviously put in immigration detention.

“Because there is a bit of a cash economy [here], that can be sought out by workers, especially if they’re in the trade industry.

“I had one client who was simply a bricklayer, which, you can imagine, being paid cash for that position is fairly easy to avoid detection.

“Anything where basically you can set up as a contractor … if they haven’t properly registered their ABN and they are just accepting cash in hand, it can be very hard to detect those individuals at the end of the day.”

Evading tax

The Australian Tax Office did not have an estimate of the tax lost due to overstayed visas, but said it had methods for detecting people evading tax.

“Under the Black Economy Task Force, the ATO has expanded our data-matching capabilities,” a spokesperson said.

“We use extensive third-party data, small business benchmarks, check if assets and lifestyles match income levels, and use a range of other indicators to identify businesses and employees that may be avoiding tax obligations by not reporting some or all of their income.”

The ATO also said there were potential penalties if employers and employees had not fulfilled their tax obligations.

What do the candidates say?

In terms of election policies, both major parties have policies around border control which don’t specifically address the issue of overstayed visas.

However, Angie Bell, the Liberal National Party candidate for Moncrieff, said in a statement that the Government had introduced and strengthened a range of measures to tackle the issue of illegal workers and employers who engaged in migrant exploitation.

She said this included the establishment of the multi-agency Taskforce Cadena and providing an additional $20.1 million for the Fair Work Ombudsman to deal with employers who exploited workers.

The Coalition had also introduced legislation that would impose heavy penalties on employers who deliberately and systematically underpaid workers, Ms Bell said, as well as reforms to ensure working holiday maker visa holders were paid fairly.

At the time of publication, Labor candidate Tracey Bell had not responded to requests for comment.

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