457 visa compliance is an issue for many professionals. Emma Mackey contributed to the Institute of Public Accountants journal on this issue. Read the published article below.
Professionals administering 457 visa programs often overlook the importance of compliance with, and risk assessment in relation to, the 457 standard business sponsorship obligations. Many mistakenly believe that these issues are not important or are a “human resources” issue.
But professionals need to be abreast of sponsorship issues to discharge their duties in the compliance and risk management areas.
Recent legislative history
The landscape changed for 457 sponsors on 14 September 2009, when the Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Act 2008 (“Amending Act”) and associated regulations came into effect. The Amending Act added Subdivisions C (Sponsorship Obligations), D ( Enforcement), E (Liability and Recovery of Amounts) and F (Inspectors) to the Migration Act 1958. Before this date, sponsors were required only to make sponsor “undertakings”, of a much more limited nature, to DIAC.
Despite the importance of the changes, it appears – two years on – that many sponsors
are not recognising or meeting the new sponsorship obligations. Nor are they aware of
the legal penalties and reputational ramifications which can flow from a breach.
There are numerous sponsorship obligations enshrined in legislation. Six areas cause
A significant obligation introduced in 2009 is the requirement to ensure that overseas
workers receive terms and conditions of employment which are no less favourable than
those for an Australian citizen or permanent resident carrying out the same position in
the employer’s workplace at the same location.
This obligation requires sponsors, at time of application, to provide evidence of market
salary rates being met, before the visa can be issued. However, the obligation is
continuing in nature – requiring this issue to be revisited regularly throughout the visa
period, up to four years. Many companies have not yet incorporated this requirement
into their salary review processes.
Sponsored worker only to work in approved occupation
At the time that the 457 visa is granted, the occupation in which the visa holder must
work is specified and this role must be occupied for the term of the visa, unless
application is made to DIAC to change the occupation.
Many sponsors have inadvertently breached this obligation by promoting 457 visa
holders into more senior roles, or restructuring and placing 457 visa holders into different
positions after the restructure.
The more serious issue, from DIAC’s perspective, is fraudulent applications. Only
specified occupations can be accessed by business sponsors under the 457 program,
unless the sponsor is a party to a Labour Agreement. These occupations are reviewed
and changed from time to time. The occupations are clearly defined with reference to an
Australian Bureau of Statistics publication.
To avoid entering into a Labour Agreement (which does not have occupation
restrictions), some sponsors needing workers in non-specified occupations have
made applications for workers in positions that they never intend to fill. Once approval
is received, the sponsor has then knowingly moved the 457 visa holder into a non-
The intense national media scrutiny and consequent union attention surrounding a
company identified in 2011 as having allegedly falsified applications in this manner
undoubtedly caused significant reputational harm and consumed substantial time and
cost in the human resources, legal and governance areas - as well as at board level.
Obligation to keep records
There is an obligation to keep and be able to produce records of compliance with all
sponsorship obligations – some of which must be capable of independent verification.
There are eight specific requirements for a standard business sponsor – in addition to
the records that must be kept under other Australian laws. Many human resource and
program managers fail to keep these records because they are outside the scope of
Although DIAC is not yet very active in prosecuting sponsors for sponsorship breaches,
a breach of sponsorship obligations can be uncovered by other State and Federal
agencies – many of which have significant resources for investigation and prosecution.
In August 2011, the Fair Work Ombudsman lodged documents in the Federal
Magistrates Court in Perth claiming that a Perth business underpaid the wages of a
Filipino mechanic employed on a 457 visa. A second breach of workplace law has been
alleged – namely that the company failed to keep proper employment records. It is likely
that the Fair Work Ombudsman will refer this matter to DIAC for investigation of possible
sponsorship breaches as well.
Obligation to provide information to DIAC when certain events occur
Many of the parts of this obligation fall squarely within company secretarial practice.
DIAC must be advised within 10 working days of any change to information provided
to DIAC in the sponsorship application – which includes information relating to change
of name of the company, change in business or registered address, appointment of
new directors and insolvency events (some examples include the appointment of an
official liquidator or administrator, a Court order that a company be wound up, a special
resolution to wind a company up voluntarily and deregistration proceedings).
Those parts of this obligation that fall within human resources responsibilities include
advising DIAC when a 457 visa holder’s employment ceases or is expected to cease, a
change to the 457 visa holders duties, that the sponsor has paid the return travel costs
of a 457 visa holder or family members (in accordance with another obligation – to pay
return travel costs) or that a child has been born to a 457 visa holder.
There is a specific DIAC notification procedure which must be followed to advise of
Company policies and procedures often fail to reflect these requirements, which are then
overlooked – placing the sponsor in breach.
Co-operation with inspectors appointed under the Migration Act 1958
The introduction of inspectors to undertake workplace visits and an obligation to co-
operate with DIAC inspectors is a significant one, commencing at the time the business
sponsorship is approved and ceasing five years after the sponsorship ceases.
Before 14 September 2009, DIAC sent monitoring forms to employers asking for
information about compliance with the then sponsorship undertakings, in most cases.
The power of inspectors is wide and includes the power to enter business premises or
another place, without force, if the inspector reasonably believes that there are relevant
records at the place or accessible from a computer at that place. The visit may be during
business hours or at any other time if the inspector believes it reasonably necessary.
“Another place” could include the office of a Registered Migration Agent.
While on business or other premises the inspector has the power to inspect any work,
process or object, interview any person, require a person to tell the inspector who has
custody of, or access to, requested records or documents and to require the person
with custody or access to produce the record or document either immediately or within
a specified time. The inspector may also inspect and make copies of documents and
records. The inspector can require a person to give his name and address if the
inspector reasonably believes that the person has contravened a civil penalty provision.
There is an obligation to cooperate with an inspector. A person is not excused from
producing a record or document on the ground that the production of the record or
document might tend to incriminate the person or expose the person to a penalty.
Many sponsors do not have procedures in place to assist their staff to meet the
obligation, should an inspector come to call.
Sponsors that have been trading for at least 12 months are required, at application
stage, to prove that the business has been providing training to Australian citizens and
permanent residents (not visa holders) related to the purpose of the business. The
training provided must meet either Benchmark A or Benchmark B.
Benchmark A involves having allocated funds equivalent to two per cent of payroll
in the previous 12 months to an industry training fund to train Australian citizens and
permanent residents related to the purpose of the business. There is also a commitment
to maintaining expenditure to that level each year for the term of the sponsorship
Benchmark B involves providing evidence, at application stage, that the business has
in the previous 12 months spent the equivalent of one per cent of payroll on training
Australian citizen or permanent resident employees of the business in purposes related
to the business. Expenditure for this purpose can include payment to external providers
to deliver relevant training, employment of apprentices and trainees, employment of an
internal training provider, paying for a formal course of study for employees or for TAFE
or university students or funding a scholarship in a formal course of study approved
under the Australian Qualifications Framework.
Businesses operating for fewer than 12 months are required to submit an auditable plan
detailing planned compliance with either of the Training Benchmarks.
Many companies fail to appreciate that meeting a Training Benchmark is an ongoing
requirement throughout the period of the sponsorship. Further, some companies are not
centralising their training records, making it time-consuming to substantiate compliance
with Training Benchmark B, when requested by DIAC.
Monitoring, Breaches & Penalties
DIAC continues to monitor sponsorship compliance, but with greater powers and
resources since 14 September 2009.
Sponsors found to be in breach of obligations face a number of possible penalties, which
include sponsorship approval being cancelled, sponsors being barred from obtaining
sponsorship status, issuing of infringement notices and application for civil penalties
under Part 8D of the Migration Act, which at present attract fines of $33,000 per breach
DIAC figures show 137 sponsors were sanctioned in the year ending 30 June 2011.
DIAC has not released any other information about these sponsors. The writer is
unaware of DIAC having taken action against a sponsor for civil penalties at this time.
However, there is obvious pressure on the 457 visa system from several quarters,
including parts of the union movement.
1. Sponsors should review their human resources and governance policies and
procedures to ensure compliance.
2. Appropriate personnel should be provided with training.
3. A regular audit of policies, procedures, documentation and training by a
Registered Migration Agent who is also a legal practitioner (for legal professional
privilege) is important.
Author Emma Mackey