Australian immigration minister cracks down on 457 temporary work visa 'abuse'

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The new Australian immigration minister Brendan O'Connor, has announced that he has 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. Mr O'Connor said that some Australian firms were employing people on Temporary Work (Skilled) Standard Sponsorship (Subclass 457) visas (better known as '457 visas') claiming that their roles were skilled when they were not.

In order to employ a worker on a 457 visa, an Australian employer must first nominate a position which he wants to fill. The employer must state, in his application, that the position is a skilled position and that there are no available Australian workers to do the job.

The Australian employer can then seek foreign employees to do the job. After he offers the position to a foreign worker, that worker can apply for a 457 visa in order to take that job. If successful, the worker is granted a visa which will allow him to work in Australia for four years.

'Administrators' working as security guards

Mr O'Connor said that some Australian firms were dressing up low skilled work as high skilled work so that they could employ cheaper workers on 457 visas. He cited the example of one Melbourne IT company which had hired temporary workers as administrators. The firm had nominated several 'administrator roles, saying that they were skilled roles and there were no available Australians willing or able to do the job. The firm then offered the posts to foreign workers who had received 457 visas and taken the 'administrator' roles. The workers then worked for the Australian firm as security guards, Mr O'Connor said.

Mr O'Connor said that he will introduce new legislation to ensure that 457 visas can only be granted where there is a genuine skills shortage and to make sure that Australian workers are given a chance to get the job first. He said that he will also increase the level of English required by those who get 457 visas.

Mr O'Connor said 'There are situations where Australian workers are being discriminated against because of the abuse of the programme. Rogue employers are deliberately employing people from overseas without giving a local a chance.'

Australian unions are pleased. Dave Oliver of the Australian Council of Trade Unions said that there was a 40% rise in the number of 457 visas issued in the last year but, at the same time, there are 70,000 fewer jobs on offer in the Australian construction sector.

New regime 'risks damaging IT sector'

However, Australian business, particularly the IT sector has said that the new regime risks damaging the sector and cut the number of jobs available.

Julie Mills of ITCRA, the Information Technology Contract & Recruitment Association for Australia and New Zealand, said that many Australian firms faced with increased restrictions on recruitment might well outsource the jobs to India or elsewhere resulting in fewer jobs for Australian workers, not more.

She told the Australian Financial Review 'for all recruiters, the opportunity to bring in skilled overseas workers requires a rigorous assessment of need via the 457 labour agreement process…A bigger concern is the offshoring of ICT process and administration roles…if the right skills are not available in the right place, then projects cannot wait until the talent re-skills or graduates.'

Andy Cross of recruitment firm Ambition told the Australian Financial Review, 'With falling demand for undergraduate technology courses and an aging population, it's obvious we can't realistically expect to meet current or future demand with our current home-grown supply. We probably need to be encouraging overseas applicants to meet market demand and support the technology industry.'

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