While Kim Beazley and Amanda Vanstone sling mud at one another over the intake of skilled migrants on the 457 Temporary Business (457) Visa, questions have been raised about the use and misuse of other visas, in particular the Occupational Trainee Visa (442).

The Occupational Trainee Visa is used to get trained workers the on-the-job skills they need to find full-time employment. Applicants don’t need to have trained in Australia to apply for the visa, and aren’t compelled to work in Australia once their work-based training is finished. And given that means 900 hours (five and a half months) of work for little or no money, it’s easy to see how unscrupulous employers might see it as a source of cheap labour.

Crikey believes there are organisations currently being investigated for using the 442 improperly, a fact confirmed by Sandi Logan, a spokesperon for the Department of Immigration. Karyn Anderson, an immigratin law specialist, says there is a capacity for “unscrupulous operators” to use the 442 visa improperly.

“There’s an imbalance of power in operation here. If a worker loses their visa, their employment is terminated, so abuses may go unreported by staff because they fear losing their visa, and so it comes back to how well this system is monitored. Further, if someone has paid $30,000 for their tertiary education in overseas student fees and who is required to undertake workplace training to qualify for permanent residence, they may settle for less than award wages and conditions,” Anderson says.

As Sandi Logan pointed out however, only 6890 of these visas were taken up in 2005-2006, and so it’s possible that the level of rorting would “be relatively low given the relatively low number of visa grants.”

Whether news of such abuses is conveniently being drowned out by the bluster coming from Canberra about the 457 visa is another issue altogether.