Australian 457 Visa ChangesHe’s only been in charge for a month however new Australian immigration minister Brendan O’Connor, has announced changes to the Australian 457 Visa program following evidence that one of the country’s main temporary work visas is being abused by Australian companies to undercut Australian workers and has announced a crackdown.

The federal government accused some employers of discriminating against Australians with Mr O’Connor saying the 457 visas will be tightened to ensure they are only used to address genuine skills shortages, and local workers are getting a “fair go”.

Key Changes to the Australian 457 Visa Program.

There are several key changes being brought forward

  • The introduction of a genuineness criterion under which the department may refuse a nomination if the position does not fit within the scope of the activities of the business.
  • An increase in market salary exemption threshold from $180 000 to $250 000 to ensure that higher paid salary workers are not able to be undercut through the employment of overseas labour at a cheaper rate.
  • The removal of English language exemptions for certain positions. Many long-term 457 workers go on to apply for permanent residence, and this change will ensure that the 457 program requirements are brought into line with the permanent Employer Sponsored program which requires a vocational English ability. This change will benefit visa holders by ensuring that 457 visa holders, who have an ongoing position with their employer and want to apply for permanent residence in the long-run are not disadvantaged because of their language ability. Applicants who are nominated with a salary greater than $92 000 will continue to be exempted from the English language requirement.
  • Enhanced regulatory powers for the department to ensure that the working conditions of sponsored visa holders meet Australian standards and that subclass 457 workers cannot be exploited or used to undercut local workers.
  • Amendments to existing training benchmark provisions to clarify that an employer’s obligation to train Australians is ongoing and binding for the duration of their approved sponsorship, including for newly established business.
  • Amendments to clarify that 457 workers may not be on-hired to an unrelated entity unless they are sponsored under a labour agreement.
  • Amendments which will allow the department to refund a visa application fee in circumstances where an employer nomination has been withdrawn.

Changes supported by Australian unions

Dave Oliver of the Australian Council of Trade Unions said that the construction sector had declined by 68,000 jobs in the past 12 months while there had been a 38 per cent increase in 457 visas. “It doesn’t make sense. Local jobs are disappearing and yet there is a significant increase nationwide of the amount of 457 visas that are being granted,” he said.

“We’ve seen this for too long as a lazy option for employers.

“It’s just a matter of a tick-and-flick form where they can bring workers from overseas, as opposed to investing in their own workforce by employing apprentices and providing training for their workers.”

“457 Visa Program should be Freed up, not tightened further!”

Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, said the 457 program needed freeing up, not further tightening.

“Unemployment is still at historically low levels and there are many areas where local skilled labour is simply not available,” he said.

“Employers will always prefer to hire locally but we still don’t have the right skills in the right places and employers have been forced to turn to immigration programs to supplement their local workforce.”

The IT Sector in particular could be impacted by any proposed changes with any new regime risks damaging the sector and cutting the number of jobs available as the tight job market forces jobs offshore.

When will the changes to the 457 Visa Program happen?

The changes to the 457 Visa Program will be introduced on 1 July 2013. In the lead up to the changes, detailed information will be made available by the federal government to assist sponsors and visa holders and their representatives understand the new requirements.

So, do you see these changes as a good thing?