Overseas workers will be allowed to work for a year without applying for 457 visas

A new temporary-entry permit proposed by the Department of Immigration to allow overseas workers to stay in Australia for a year without a 457 visa would create “open slather” on the Australian labour market at the same time it faces growing unemployment, unions warn.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has reviewed skilled migration and in December, it quietly released its recommendations to relax entry requirements for short-term foreign workers. Its proposals include extending the six-month short term mobility visa to 12 months.

The change would mean overseas workers would not have to apply for a 457 working visa, which imposes stricter entry requirements including English language tests. Employers are also required to demonstrate they have looked for local workers before giving jobs to employees from overseas, under a 457 visa.

CFMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor said proposals to abolish the requirement for language and skills tests for temporary overseas workers would worsen unemployment levels in Australia, particularly for young people.

The proposals would mean employers would not be required to demonstrate they had first tried to fill job vacancies with Australian workers before giving them to people from overseas.

“It is absolute madness in the current environment, with unemployment at a 10-year high, to be removing even more opportunities for people to gain access to the workforce,” Mr O’Connor said.

“The impact on young people will be particularly harsh. Youth unemployment is at crisis levels, yet the majority of 457 visa approvals are for people under 30.”

Mr O’Connor said one in five workers on 457 visas already was being paid below-standard wages.

“The 457 visa program needs to have requirements strengthened in the current economic climate, not relaxed,” he said.

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said the proposed relaxation of requirements for temporary-entry visas would undermine Australian wages and conditions.

She said the proposal to extend short term mobility visas to 12 months would lead to further exploitation of foreign workers.

“We find it absolutely extraordinary that the government’s panel has made a recommendation to just have open slather on the labour market,” she said.

Opposition spokesman for Immigration and Border Protection Richard Marles said the Labor Party was “deeply concerned” about any proposal to remove labour market testing or English language requirements for temporary skilled migrants.

A spokesman for the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator Michaelia Cash said the Coalition government fully supported the principle that Australian workers have priority for domestic job opportunities.

“Contrary to union claims, an effectively managed temporary labour migration program will not threaten Australian jobs.  Rather, it will secure the future of businesses and grow employment opportunities to enable businesses to employ more Australians,” he said.

“An effectively managed skilled migration program is essential in supporting employers in industries and regions experiencing skill shortages.  It is essential in restoring growth in the economy.  It is essential in lifting our productivity.”

Submissions to the skilled migration review will close at the end of this month before the federal government responds.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry  director of employment Jenny Lambert said all stakeholders, including unions, needed to recognise that opportunities for Australians are enhanced by a strong economy that is globally competitive.  She said the Department of Immigration proposal referred to highly specialised skills.

“Access to these skills can only benefit the skills development of the Australian workforce as evidence shows that such arrangements allow for the transfer of skills to Australians, ” Ms Lambert said.

“Part of being globally competitive is recognising that the labour force is increasingly global and strong international companies will be attracted here through effective regulatory environments that allow them to operate seamlessly.

“A balanced and reasonable approach to skilled migration policy, preferably with bipartisan support, is good for Australia, and most importantly good for Australian jobs and the economy. Let this be the starting point for a rational discussion.

Courtesy of SMH- Anna patty –Workplace editor

Administrator’s note:

For once I agree with the unions and other concerned bodies as to the potential for damaging the local labour force and more importantly access to these fields for graduates, school leavers, trainees and apprentices.

We already have professional bodies advising the government that there is no shortage (and a glut of graduates) but yet these occupations stay on the respective shortage list viz., accountants, engineers and nurses

Given the current state of unemployment generally and youth unemployment specifically, this seems to be a nonsensical proposal. Whilst it is true that there is no direct complementary relationship between levels of general unemployment and level of skill shortage, one should ask who is in fact asking for this relaxation of the rules? Is it not time local employers starting taking a punt on local graduates and trainees etc, even though they may not have the optimum level of experience. Without being given a go, they will never get that experience and – worse- possibly drop out of the professions or industries, leaving us even worse off and even more reliant on overseas staff!

With the exception of overseas or inter-company transfers, which do not fit easily into the existing 457 visa program , there is no objective justification for loosening up the 457 visa program.

The Immigration minister refers to an effectively managed skilled migration program but  that presumes that the system -which doubtless will be heavily used – will be appropriately regulated. However the department already struggles to monitor the 457 program which has enforceable rules and regulation currently in place ans sufficient to control the existing programs.

It is difficult to see how this system will work without self auditing, and we can all guess how successful that will be!