Liberals tighten checks on 457 visas

INTEGRITY checks on the 457 skilled visa program will be strengthened, including by sharing data with the Australian Taxation Office, to ensure overseas workers receive their nominated salary and are not undercutting Australian jobs.

A new penalty will also be introduced as part of the revamp to make it illegal for businesses to accept payments in return for sponsoring 457 visa-holders.

The Abbott government will today announce it is adopting most of the recommendations of an independent review held last year into the program.

“We will proactively prosecute and name and shame offenders exploiting overseas workers and misusing the program,’’ the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Michaela Cash, said.

The program allows the temporary use of skilled workers from overseas when jobs cannot be filled by qualified Australians, but it has been demonised, particularly by unions seeking to exploit fears over local jobs.

Writing in The Australian today, Senator Cash says the economic and productivity benefits of a well-managed overseas worker program are significant, yet understated, and she argues the 457 program was poorly managed by the Rudd and Gillard governments.

“Consequently, community confidence in its value and integrity was undermined,’’ she writes.

Numbers in the program have fallen slightly to 107,306 visa- holders at the end of last month, in line with slowing demand in the labour market.

Senator Cash says contrary to claims made by Labor and unions — including allegations the visa program was beset by 10,000 rorts — the independent review she commissioned did not find widespread rorting of the scheme.

“It did make some sensible suggestions, however, for strengthening existing provisions to ensure Australian workers have priority while supporting employers with genuine skill shortages to access the skills they need.

“The Abbott government is firmly committed to ensuring the subclass 457 program acts as a supplement to, and not a substitute for, Australian workers.’’

The recommendations the government is adopting will include increased focus on targeting employers who seek to misuse the program, introducing greater transparency around the department’s sanctions processes and the sharing of information between key agencies.

Senator Cash will confirm today that the government will not remove the current labour-market testing arrangements that require businesses to test ­employment markets first to find domestic skilled workers before turning to the 457 visa program.

Retention of the arrangements will appease unions, but upset business and industry, which will accuse the government of being too timid in its response to the review. The review recommended labour-market testing be scraped, saying it was not “fully reliable’’ and “ineffective’’ in the Australian context.

The government is also examining replacing current training benchmarks to introduce a fund administered by the government to train Australian workers.

Senator Cash will also confirm the government will change the English language test so it allows an average mark of five rather than the current minimum of five in each area of reading, writing, comprehension and speaking Eng­lish. But there will be a minimum mark of 4.5 in each category.

Courtesy of The Australian – Stephanie Balogh

Administrator’s note:

This news is welcome, particularly retaining labour market testing and tightening up questionable employers tactics. Although as always you can argue whether more regulations were required, instead of properly applying existing laws and regulations.

I’m not convinced English levels needed tampering with but the government hasn’t gone too far on this.

Extending the sponsorship period will create problems for businesses in respect of keeping track of training obligations – large companies by higher administrative staff turnover and small companies who traditionally tend to de-prioritise management of administrative matters. Perhaps the new training payment system will overcome this, although it is still a process which must be given due attention.

Overall the changes do appear a little cosmetic, so the enforcement side of things should remain the government’s priority – including real and impactful sanctions where employers have done the wrong thing.

Employers are reminded that they must be aware of their obligations in this era of increased monitoring and enforcement to avoid nasty surprises.