Australia's leading sex worker advocacy group is urging the federal government to expand coverage of skilled work visas to include foreign prostitutes.
Currently, 624 different types of jobs are covered under Australia's 457 visa regimen. According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, "the subclass 457 visa is for skilled workers from outside Australia who have been sponsored and nominated by a business to work in Australia on a temporary basis."
While laws vary from state to state, prostitution in some form is legal throughout the nation. But sex work is not included among the approved professions eligible for entry under the 457 visa. The Australian Sex Workers Association, also known as the Scarlet Alliance, wants to change that.
The Australianreports foreign sex workers are demanding the right to ply their trade Down Under as skilled workers on 457 visas. Jules Kim, migration program manager at the Scarlet Alliance, argues that sex work is indeed a skilled profession, with prostitutes needing to master such skills as "working with condoms and dams, negotiating prices and services, performing STI (sexually-transmitted infection) checks, making risk assessments and establishing boundaries."
"The (Immigration Department) considers that sex work is not a skilled occupation and so they've been excluded," Kim said of her fellow sex workers. "That's discriminatory, and we want equal rights."
Scarlet Alliance has told a Senate inquiry that "sex work is no less skilled than other occupations" on the government's official skills-shortage list, but the Immigration Department countered that such work isn't considered "skilled" because no degree or diploma was required.
The 457 visas are controversial in Australia, with unions seeking to reduce the number of them issued. Organized labor claims that unscrupulous employers use 457 visas to hire foreigners at lower wages than Australians and to exploit the vulnerable outsiders.
Kim says that foreign sex workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, including sex trafficking, and that access to 457 visas would greatly reduce the threat.
"The more legal, safe migration pathways you have open to people, the less likely they're going to be vulnerable to exploitation," she told News Limited.
A spokesman for the Immigration Department said that foreigners entering Australia on working holiday or student visas are free to work in the legal sex industry.