457 visa changes slammed by Australian business leaders and former WTO chief

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Australian business leaders, along with a former chief of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), have launched a scathing attack on the Turnbull government over 457 visa changes.

Business leaders and former WTO director, Pascal Lamy, have accused the federal government of ‘threatening the economy’ and branding foreigners as ‘barbarians.’

Coca-Cola Amatil managing director Alison Watkins, Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman and GE president Geoff Culbert have described the overhaul of Australia’s 457 visa system as ‘hypocritical’ and ‘regressive.’

Lamy lashed out at the government for the changes, which he believes have been fuelled by the global populist phenomenon. Speaking at the recent Crawford Australian Leadership Forum, Lamy said: “As a part of the anti-globalisation trend, labelling foreigners as barbarians has always been a good political trick.”

457 visa abolished

In April 2017, the Turnbull government announced that the 457 visa would be scrapped, to be replaced by a ‘temporary skills shortage visa.’ Fewer occupations would be eligible for the new visa, while they would be valid for stricter timeframes of two and four years.

As a result of the changes, hundreds of technology workers and staff across the business and hospitality communities no longer automatically qualify for permanent residency following on from their 457 visa.

The federal government’s decision to end the 457 visa scheme has forced many skilled workers to consider returning home. It’s understood that a potential lack of future opportunities in Australia is a real concern to foreign-born skilled workers in the country.

Skills shortage in New South Wales due to visa changes

54,000 jobs will remain vacant in the state of New South Wales (NSW) in 2018, according to a survey of more than 800 businesses in the region in May. The imminent skills shortage has partly been attributed to the 457 visa situation.

Woodside’s Peter Coleman stated: “The wider community should be very concerned by the changes. You put up barriers here (Australia) and it will get reciprocated.” Coleman was alluding to the likelihood of retaliation from international partners.

According to Coleman, there’s a misguided view in Australia that the country is losing jobs. ‘The truth is, some jobs are too costly to develop here’, he said. He views the government’s actions as a retrograde step that will impact Australia, long-term.

Meanwhile, Alison Watkins of Coca-Cola Amatil described the abolition of the 457 visa scheme as ‘purely political.’ She said: “We are a small country and we need to be able to attract the best skills; it’s absolutely hypocritical.”

GE’s Geoff Culbert slammed the government for the severe lack of consultation about the decision to end the 457 visa program. He said: “This is the issue with populism. It’s policy driven by the next opinion poll.”

Skilled occupation list review

Australia’s Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, has vehemently defended the decision to abolish the 457 visa, claiming that the changes would have very little impact on certain sectors.

He said: “Where people are highly skilled, particularly if they are being employed in medical research institutes or tertiary hospitals, in many cases they won’t be affected by the changes that we’ve made.”

In July, the skilled occupations list will undergo the first of regular reviews, Dutton announced. He pledged to keep an ‘open dialogue’ with employers, stating that there will be an important place for some people to enter via the visa system. However, he was adamant that Australian workers should be given first priority to fill skilled roles.