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Getting work down under

By Duncan Graham - posted Thursday, 9 February 2006

When M. Agung Susetyo opened his e-mail in Surabaya the message seemed incredible: the long-time jobless father of one had been offered high-pay work in Australia.

But this was no junk-mail scam; the message came from a former work supervisor when Susetyo was a TKI (Tenaga Kerja Indonesia), a blue-collar worker who had found employment overseas.

For three years Susetyo worked in a Brunei abattoir killing and processing cattle imported from Australia. The money he earned was sent back to his family in Jombang and helped educate his younger sister.


When the meatworks closed he had to return to East Java and join the jobless. His one-time boss went back to Australia, but didn’t forget Susetyo.

The practice of exporting Indonesian labour and remitting salaries has been long established. More than 3.5 million are working overseas. Officially 12 per cent of the Indonesian workforce is unemployed, but NGOs claim the figure is much higher with millions underemployed.

Indonesian construction workers are building high rises in Malaysia and the Middle East. Maids in those countries, plus Singapore and Hong Kong, are keeping homes and babies clean. TKI in Brunei, South Korea and Taiwan are doing the jobs locals shun.

But not in Australia, despite Australia suffering a chronic labour shortage in many trades, particularly metalwork, hospitality, nursing and farming. Until now.

Earlier last year Australian Prime Minister John Howard rejected the idea of guest workers and knocked back pleas from Pacific Island governments to take their citizens. However since last July about 30,000 foreigners have quietly and legally entered the country’s workforce.

They’ve been using a little known Temporary Business (Long Stay) visa, known in the bureaucracy as a “457 visa”.


Under this scheme approved businesses that can prove they’re unable to find Australian staff are allowed to sponsor qualified overseas workers in good health and with no police record. The jobs offered must be on a list of gazetted occupations.

These cover managers, administrators, professionals and tradespersons. These headings break down to jobs as diverse as teachers, metallurgists, stage directors, confectioners and gardeners. More than 500 are listed.

Holders of 457 visas can stay for up to four years. After 30 months they have the chance to apply for permanent residency. In some cases they can bring their spouses and dependents who may also work and study.

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More details on the 457 visas can be found here.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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