A Melbourne fast-food restaurant owner is being investigated for a possible 22 breaches of immigration law regarding the visa conditions of foreign students.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is investigating Anni Kartawidjaja, who owns a number of Nando’s stores in Melbourne’s south-east, while five employees are also expected to be charged for their involvement.
A spokesperson for the department said in a statement the students had allegedly been working illegally for a two-and-a-half year period and evidence suggests key management staff were told to turn a blind eye to the illegal workers.
“More than 90 charges are expected to be laid as a result of an Immigration-led investigation,” the spokesperson said.
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“It is imperative employers understand they may be penalised for compromising the integrity of visa programs.”
The department has not specified what the exact breaches were, only that the workers were employed illegally.
The students worked at Kartawidjaja’s Nando’s stores as well as her other grocery stores.
Most of them were allegedly illegal workers who resided at Kartawidjaja’s properties while paying rent, internet, telephone and heating bills to Kartawidjaja, often as salary deductions.
A spokesperson for Nando’s told SmartCompany in a statement the franchise has “strict policies around the lawful employment and fair work practices”.
“This is stipulated in our franchisee agreements and any contraventions are a breach of this franchise agreement.”
The Nando’s spokesperson says it’s in the process of investigating the claims.
“We are not aware of the details of the allegations but are in the process of investigating the situation with the franchisee and the Department of Immigration,” the spokesperson says.
Hall and Wilcox lawyer and migration consultant Malcolm Crang told SmartCompany foreign students are legally allowed to work in Australia, but they have to abide by set conditions.
“Usually there are work conditions which limit them to 40 hours of work a fortnight, so they can only work part-time.
“This used to be 20 hours, but it was changed last year when it was found people inadvertently breaching their conditions by working 19 hours one week and 21 hours the next,” he says.
The Department of Immigration says it has been a criminal offence to hire illegal workers since 2007 and this offence carries “substantial penalties”, including the possibility of 12 months imprisonment for each charge.
“In addition, new reforms came into effect on June 1 that introduced a tiered approach of infringement notices, civil penalties and criminal prosecutions to support awareness, encourage compliance and provide a strong response when necessary,” the spokesperson says.