SYDNEY: Thirty-four Malaysians, including two minors, have been detained by the Australian immigration authorities for working as fruit pickers without valid visas.
Bersih Sydney said on its Facebook page that they are victims of a scam.
The 34 Malaysians are awaiting deportation at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. They had been detained at a blueberry farm in Coffs Coast.
Bersih Sydeny said the Salvation Army Australia recently reached out to it, seeking assistance over the issue.
The FB entry said following the Salvation Army request, a Bersih Sydney member began working closely with the Salvation Army and the Malaysian Consulate in Sydney.
“It was soon clear that these illegal workers had fallen victim to a scam that is becoming increasingly prevalent.”
It said the seriousness of the matter prompted the Australian High Commission in Malaysia to issue a warning about claims that Australian visas were for sale.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection warned:
“These claims are not true. Australian visas are not for sale. Visas can only be obtained through official channels. We are also aware of facilitators in Malaysia organising visas and flights to Australia for people who intend to work illegally on their Electronic Travel Authority visa. This is a scam attempting to intentionally mislead people, often for money or other personal gain.”
Bersih Sydney said its member then decided to go undercover to find out more.
The Bersih Sydney member found that “agents” operating in Malaysia, some linked to tour companies, claim that they are able to assist Malaysians wishing to make some extra money abroad to enter and work in Australia undetected by the Australian immigration authorities.
“Attractive packages that cost up to RM3,999 are offered, which supposedly allow people to work in farms in Australia with most expenses covered, including air fare, hotel expenses, visa application fees, workplace accommodations and local transportation fees.”
It said the promises did not match the situation on the ground, quoting newspaper reports about underpaid blueberry pickers being forced to work 36 days straight and 10 workers being forced to spend their nights in a small backyard garage.
“In addition, the accommodation and transportation fees promised to be included in the packages were deducted daily from their wages. Long working periods, poor living conditions and below minimum wages were just some of the difficulties these victims had to face.”
The Bersih Sydney FB entry said its undercover member found that the “agents” spread much misinformation, including that tourist visas or bridging visas would be sufficient to allow them to work in Australia, which is not true.
“In other instances, “agents” offer to arrange for work travel visas for applicants; it is worth noting here that the Australian government only issues 100 Subclass 417 work travel visas to Malaysians per year.
“Other “agents” recruit Malaysian students in Australia, or suggest Malaysians to enroll in TAFE courses and to then work while holding a student visa. This usually leads to them working on fruit farms beyond the stipulated work hour limit, exposing them to having their visa revoked. Once these workers are caught, the “agents” would refuse to get involved, while the victims would bear the consequences and risk being deported.”
The FB posting said Bersih Sydney and the Australian Salvation Army were working with the authorities to prevent this scam.
“We strongly advise everyone to stay informed on such scams and to only obtain Australian visas through reputable channels.”