British backpack deportation case highlights gaps in Australian visa system

by Ray Clancy on April 7, 2016

in Australia, General Information, Immigration Documentation

The case of a British man in Australia on a working holiday visa who ended up helping to run a high growth start-up company is being highlighted amid calls for an overhaul of the visa system.

It is claimed that start-ups in particular find it hard to recruit talented workers from overseas as they are often not recognised when it comes to sponsoring visas because they do not have billions of dollars of assets.

Chris Bailey, chief operating officer of Disrupt, a company that allows people to design their own sports equipment such as surfboards and yoga mats, was stopped by immigration officials in Australia after returning from a business trip to the United States.


He was deported to the UK after a decision was made that his work did not fulfil the requirements of his working holiday visa. Officials took the view that working for a start-up was contrary to the working holiday visa where holders usually work in tourism, agriculture or the hospitality sector.

But it highlights the fact that small business and start-ups are not currently catered for in the Australian visa system. They need to be approved by the government to be able to sponsor an employee from abroad but the very nature of their business means that they are often too small to qualify.

According to Dr Joanna Howe, a law expert from the University of Adelaide, it highlights the fact that the various visa types don’t work together. She explained that one of the problems is that there is too much red tape.

For example, to hire someone from overseas on a class 457 temporary business visa, one of the most common, the employee and the employer need to be approved and then an official green light given to them pairing up. Howe said it is a complex process that takes time and tends to benefit organisations that can pay for migration specialists to do the paper work. However, for smaller business that’s not an option.

According to Disrupt, it has been trying to get approval but so far had failed to be recognised as a suitable business for the purpose of sponsoring a skilled overseas worker. The firm’s founder Gary Elphick, who describes himself as British Australian, said that it employs nine people in its Sydney office and that Bailey, who has considerable experience in the youth sports sector, was not being paid a salary.

“As a start-up the government refuses to recognise us a business for the purpose of sponsoring highly skilled individuals on temporary work visa, despite the fact that he (Bailey) has been personally approved already,” said Elphick.

He was appalled that immigration officials said that if Bailey worked picking bananas for three months he would fulfil the terms of the working holiday visa and described the attitude as “backward” and added that he was amazed that “they see that picking fruit as adding more to the country’s economy than working for a high growth start-up”.

Howe believes that the case is probably not a single instance. She also pointed out that while there are several different visa options for a business they are often inaccessible to small businesses that do not have millions of dollars in assets.

“There needs to be a rethink of Australian migration to make it flexible for the new innovation economy. Sponsorship may not work for entrepreneurs who are involved in start-ups because the employer may not be able to pass the sponsorship threshold,” she added.

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