Australia: Higher minimum salary for temporary foreign workers

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Australia has recently announced an increase in the minimum salary that employers are required to pay temporary foreign workers under the nation's 457 visa scheme. The increase is part of a number of reforms to the system designed to "improve the integrity of the program", according to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

According to Immigration Minister Chris Evans, minimum salary levels for 457 visa holders have been frozen for two years, and previous salary increases have only applied to new entrants. This latest increase will apply to all 457 visa holders, including those already in Australia.

"It increases the safety net for skilled migrant workers to help preserve their earnings power and protect them from exploitation in the workplace," Evans said.

In addition to the standard minimum salary level increase from AUD $41,850 to AUD $43,440, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) workers will have their minimum salary raised from AUD $57,300 to $59,480 in urban areas of Australia.

In regional areas, the minimum salary will rise from AUD $37,665 to AUD $39,100. For ICT workers, the minimum salary in regional areas will rise from AUD $51,570 to AUD $53,530.

While more than 68,000 457 visa holders are currently in Australia, Evans said the changes are expected to only affect up to 24,000 temporary overseas skilled workers. Most 457 visa holders are paid above the minimum salary level.

"The 457 visa scheme is important for the continued economic growth of Australia and we must ensure that the community supports the program," Evans said.

"We need to protect migrant workers from exploitation and ensure the wages and conditions of Australian workers are not undercut," he added.

The 457 scheme is one of a number of visas that Australia provides for skilled migrants. In addition to temporary schemes, Australia has a permanent scheme for skilled overseas workers which, among other benefits, does not require a previous job offer: the General Skilled Migration (GSM) program.

People with skills in an occupation on its wide-ranging Skilled Occupation List can assess their chances of entry under this points based immigration scheme.

The Australian government recently increased the number of places alloted under the GSM for the current year by 30 percent -- a new record.