Few topics are as politically divisive to Australians as immigration. It seems ever since Europeans first arrived here, we’ve been looking over our collective shoulder, worrying and arguing about who we should let in and under what circumstances. Even what should be innocuous immigration topics have the potential to set tensions running high. One of the best examples of this is the ongoing debate surrounding temporary employer sponsored workers entering the country under 457 visas.
In the past few months, scarcely a week has gone by without a story appearing in the media about the integrity of the 457 and other temporary work visa programs. Generally, the stories and many of the commentators approach the issue of work visas from a negative viewpoint, insinuating that Australian employers are somehow rorting the system and that the local workforce is suffering due to an influx of overseas workers. Before taking a position however, it is always a good idea to look beyond the headlines and try to understand the real situation.
According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website, the 457 visa is “for skilled workers from outside Australia who have been nominated and sponsored by a business to work in Australia on a temporary basis”. For a business to sponsor someone from overseas for a 457 visa, it must, among other things, “demonstrate their commitment to employing local labour”, and demonstrate a contribution to “the training of Australian workers by providing evidence of meeting the training benchmark”.
It is worth noting that at present, there is no requirement to show that the employer attempted to fill the position locally.
It is also important to understand there are currently around 105,000 457 visa holders in Australia. This roughly equates to just 1% of the workforce. There are around twice as many student visa holders, many of whom will seek to remain permanently on completion of their tertiary studies.
Statistics have been used to show that 457 visa increases are tracking at a much higher rate than job growth. However, as the ABC 7.30 Report pointed out back in March, this does not take into account the number of workers exiting the workforce each year. Australia’s ageing population and the ongoing global skills shortage mean we will continue to need to source skilled workers from overseas well into the future.
Businesses seek simplicity, not complexity
No business deliberately seeks out complexity. Organisations almost always prefer to recruit locally where possible as this reduces cost and compliance issues. The problem is, sometimes they just can’t find the skills they need and when that happens, a 457 visa may be the only way to bring those skills into the company – and ultimately, to transfer those skills to Australian workers.
On 1 July 2013 the Federal Government introduced a number of reforms for the 457 visa program. Key among these are:
- The requirement for the nominated position to be a genuine vacancy within the company;
- The ability to take steps against sponsors who engage in discriminatory recruitment practices;
- Market salary rate requirements;
- Strengthened English language requirements;
- New training obligations for local employees; and
- A tightening of employment contracts for visa holders.
The net effect of these changes will be to add more layers of red tape to the 457 visa process.
These visa holders usually bring much-needed specialised trade or professional skills in the areas of health, engineering and construction. They are frequently deployed in remote or needy locations. Wouldn’t it make more sense to streamline recruitment processes, rather than making them more complex?
The 457 visa program should be designed to give all businesses the flexibility to source workers on temporary assignments, to bring in skills that are crucial when operating in an international marketplace where global mobility is the norm.
A pathway for permanence?
To take the program one step further, perhaps we should also be looking to provide a secure pathway for all 457 visa holders who have become valued employees and who wish to remain permanently in Australia.
The government presides over a migration program with over 129,000 skilled places available in the current migration program year. These skilled permanent residence visa holders enter the labour market eventually, so does it really matter whether they arrive on a temporary visa first or apply for a permanent visa offshore and look for work on arrival?
Australia is a great place to live and work. People are attracted to our climate and lifestyle. The global mobility of skilled talent means Australia must compete with countries that are also seeking to attract skilled workers from overseas. It’s a pity the continual 457 debate does little to instil confidence that Australia is the place to which they should commit their own and their children’s future.