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In defence of the 457 visa program
The Australian Government recently introduced changes into the 457 Visa Program, which means that when employment ceases, a person on a 457 Visa will only be allowed to remain in the country for 60 days, as opposed to the 90 days that it was previously. If a person is unable to find new employment and sponsorship in those 60 days they will have to leave the country.

In response, Labour has suggested a requirement to prove that business sponsors have contributed to local employment before they are able to bring in skilled workers, and there has also been suggestion increasing the regulation of 457 Visas further, with a proposed reduction of jobs that skilled migrants would be able to apply for under the 457 Visa Program.

These proposed changes have been met with complaints across numerous industries, which maintain that the 457 Visa Program is essential to ensure that their business can continue to operate at maximum capacity. Among those are the hospitality industry and the IT industry, who both believe they will suffer if the proposed changes are allowed to go through. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has also defended the 457 Visa Program, saying that there is a strong need for skilled migrant workers in regional areas.

 In an article on CIO, Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes criticised the government for the calls to place greater restrictions upon the 457 Visa program, suggesting they are doing so to gain political points as opposed to considering the statistics actually surrounding skilled migrants in Australia.

  ‘In fact there are currently 95 000 people in Australia on 457 visas, and this number includes family members, the partners and children of the primary visa holders who are included as a dependent on the 457 Visa. Further, the number of 457 Visa granted has actually been decreasing since 2013’.

Cannon-Brookes highlighted that within the IT industry, the skilled workers on 457 visas were essential to the business. This is due to the lack of Australians who are skilled enough to fill the senior technology positions, particularly due to the fact that the technology industry within Australia is still growing, and ten years ago it was rather small. Atlassian prefers to bring in those senior skilled workers, who can then help the younger technology graduates within the business, strengthening the skills of the Australian technology workforce. Cannon-Brookes also denies that the idea that the technology industry sought to exploit the cheap labour of foreign workers was not correct, especially once you took into account the extra costs of bringing the workers to Australia, it was actually more expensive then hiring local workers.

  ‘The idea of training local Australian’s to fill those skilled positions will take time, and is a long term solution, and until then 457 workers need to fill those positions, otherwise there won’t be an IT industry to hire those Australian workers once they have the necessary skills.’

The Sydney Morning Herald highlighted hospitality as another area which would struggle should the restrictions on 457 Visas be approved. Currently, chefs and cooks account for the largest percentage of holders of 457 visas when they are considered by profession. As well as chefs and cooks accounting for a large number of the 457 visa holders, there is a shortage of Australians who are willing to work in those same positions, whether that is due to the hours that they must work or a lack of recognisable work status, this lack of interest from Australian workers means that the industry relies upon those skilled workers to fill the position. The food industry itself is growing, and is a major contributor to national tourism.

  ‘Lecturer at the Australian National University in the College of Business and Economics, Andrew Hughes stated that the proposed visa restrictions would have huge flow on issues, including staff shortages, increased wages to try and entice replacement staff, resulting in higher restaurant prices, and an impact which will diminish the multinational culinary experience which offered in Australia, and the appeal it has to international tourists.’

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce also critiqued the potential restrictions to the 457 Visas, highlighting the need for skilled workers in regional areas. Even though there may be available skilled Australians in the cities, those skilled workers may not exist in necessary numbers in rural areas, or may be unwilling to move to the country to fill in the particular role.

Just because the skills exist in Australia, does not mean that they exist among the right people, and in places like Thargomindah and Cloncurry 457 visa holders are important for the local area. In the medical industry, the shortage of regional doctors is a real issue, and while an Australian doctor may be preferred, the skilled person just isn’t available for the role. In this area, a skilled migrant could take the crucial position of a local doctor in a regional town. The Deputy Prime Minister highlighted that when he lived in St George one of his local doctor was from New Guinea, and now that his lives in Tamworth one of the local doctors is from Iran and his own local doctor is from South Africa.

The meat industry is another area in which skilled migrants are necessary, as Australians are not willing to take on certain jobs, which the 457 Visa holders are willing to complete. In Rockhampton, 457 workers in the meat industry has actually decreased, as those who were working under the visa have sought the option to become Australian through permanent residency and citizenship, demonstrating that the visa holders which to become Australian and constructive members of the community.

Pendragon Management did its own research in the statistics of 457 Visa Holders earlier in the year, where we found that 457 Visa holders make up less than one percent of the total workforce in Australia, and that the idea that skilled workers were hired by business with the intent to have cheap labour was a fallacy, as 457 visa holders are protected under immigration law and the fair work acts.

 We believe that the 457 visa is the best visa to use to bring skilled people in Australia. As you have to have a job, no job means no visa, whereas some people are on a Permanent Resident visa without a job and are unable to find employment. Surely it’s better to have people come into the country with a job, who are skilled and able to add to the Australian economy.

Courtesy of John Glover – Pendragon Management

Administrator’s note:

Finally a sensible analysis of the 457 visa program. The preference for the program’s critics to cater to the populist ‘they taking our jobs’ mantra for political point scoring has obscured the fact that there are many industries and sectors within industries that are struggling to fill positions essential for that business, because either local skilled workers and professionals are ‘thin on the ground’ or unavailable or alternatively are not sufficiently skilled or are simply not interested- for a variety of reasons.

What the article doesn’t pick up on is the element of Australian employers – both local and overseas – who are abusing the system for a variety of reasons including economic or cultural grounds,  and the seeming absence or ineffectiveness of any sanction or effective penalty system for abusing that system and bringing it into disrepute. This only provides more fodder for the program’s critics.

What the government doesn’t get, is that the same delinquent operators who are flouting the current regime will continue to do so regardless of increasing regulation, if increased regulation isn’t partnered with toughening up compliance and increasing  ‘boots on the ground’ presence. Some employers will look at any opportunity to play the system, meanwhile compliant employers who ‘do the right thing’ are bombarded with more regulation which increases costs and processing outcomes but does not solve the root problem.