Sex workers reportedly enter Australia as 'massage therapists' under 457 visa

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A suspected prostitute puts on clothes at a hotel room during a police raid, as part of plans to crackdown on prostitution, in Dongguan, Guangdong province, February 9, 2014. Chinese authorities have carried out a rare crackdown on the sex trade in the &q
A suspected prostitute puts on clothes at a hotel room during a police raid, as part of plans to crackdown on prostitution, in Dongguan, Guangdong province, February 9, 2014. Reuters/Stringer

Secret documents suggested that the recently scrapped 457 visa for foreign workers served as pathway for prostitutes to be brought into Australia under the guise “massage therapists.” The government was reportedly aware that the program was used to “exploit people for prostitution for some time.”

An independent review of the program commissioned by the government in 2014 indicated that massage therapists was an occupation of concern. “This addresses concerns about potential use of this occupation in a prostitution setting,” a section marked “Massage Therapist” reads.

Based on the document’s “Proposed risk treatments for occupations of concern,” excluding “massage therapist” that are not located in therapeutic setting and those who do not work full time is suggested. Furthermore, the paper reportedly reveals a surge in the population of foreign workers applying to be massage therapists in the Down Under.

An unnamed source who has knowledge to the review said the government knew about the situation.  “The government has been aware that 457 visas are being used to exploit people for prostitution for some time,” an insider told news.com.au.

Sunshine Coast Daily reports that hair or beauty salon managers, transport and company managers. importers and exporters, animal attendants and trainers are also included in the list of “occupations of concern.” It is believed that some foreigners who applied as beauty salon managers are in fact beauty therapists while some who claim they are importers and exporters are actually low-skilled clerks.

On April 18, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that the 457 visa program would be replaced by two stricter schemes. The document appears to provide insight into why the Turnbull government arrived at such move, which some have denounced as xenophobic.

The 457 visa program, which currently has at least 96,000 holders in Australia, will be replaced by a two-year visa with a smaller list of eligible jobs. The medium term requires a better standard of English, and will be for four years. Mandatory labour market testing, proper police record and a criminal check are also needed.

The government said it will establish a new training fund to ensure Australians have the capability to fill jobs, thus fewer foreign workers would be necessary. “It will be manifestly, rigorously, resolutely conducted in the national interest to put Australians and Australian jobs first,” Turnbull said in a video statement. In the past two decades, nearly 1.3 million people have entered Australia on the 457 visa program.

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