The Information Technology Contract and Recruitment Association (ITCRA) is calling on the Australian government to more aggressively investigate and sanction employers and businesses who are abusing immigrant workers via the 457 visa scheme.
In the past two years there have been several high-profile cases in which immigrants were not treated properly after being brought to Australia by businesses using the temporary skilled worker program.
ITCRA works in the IT contract and recruitment industry in Australia and New Zealand, representing the interests of its members with government and employers.
The Australian government this year has gone through a cabinet shake-up, based in part upon highly visible problems with immigration and citizenship. The Parliament is currently conducting a review of immigration policies and, in particular, the 457 program since it has featured so prominently in some news stories.
While some of the abuses may be isolated, they are real enough that most everyone agrees there is a problem and that it should be fixed. Some workers were brought in and worked longer hours than are legal, underpaid in some cases, and some were charged excessive fees by employers for being sponsored for work visas.
All such activities are illegal, and businesses, the government and labor organizations are all in agreement.
The government made several announcements recently that business using the immigration programs properly and legally will benefit by having faster processing of their paperwork and less government oversight.
In its submission last week to the Federal Government's joint standing committee on migration inquiry into temporary business visas, ITCRA has called for the government to pay particular attention to cases of mis-use and to increase sanctions and penalties against abusers.
The committee is also examining the Temporary Business (Long Stay) 457 visa, used to fill the shortfall of skilled IT professionals in Australia. ITCRA said the use of 457 visas has proven to be extremely successful while admitting it has also been open to abuse.
Pointing out that the IT sector generated in excess of $78.8 billion for the fiscal year 2005-2006, ITCRA said the 457 visa is critical to Australia's future economic growth.
However, the submission admits there is a "small proportion of businesses that willfully choose to exploit the 457 visa regime."
The submission says there is no suitable deterrent yet to address the issue or to ensure businesses comply with both immigration and workplace law.
"Our members do not use the 457 visa program to minimize their obligation to recruit, hire and/or train Australians. They utilize the flexibility and speed of the 457 visa program as a supplementary measure in order to satisfy the present and impending skills shortage and employment demands in Australia, which, at present levels will reach a zero net migration point in the foreseeable five to 10 years," the submission said.
The government has complained that a lack of funding at the Department of Immigration has undermined monitoring of the 457 program.
ITCRA has made numerous requests to the Department of Immigration over the past four years seeking information on whether any ITCRA member companies were not compliant with the government's 457 regulations and policies. Senior officers have made it clear that there has not been an ITCRA member company that is non-compliant.
Due to the success of the visa program, ITCRA is keen to ensure it remains in place and that skill level requirements are also unchanged or altered in anyway.
The submission also recommends the introduction of fast-tracking 457 applications to reward sponsoring businesses who have a history of compliance. This particular recommendation is already in the process of being implemented by the government.
ITCRA said the need for the visa program has never been greater as the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) ICT Vacancy Index has increased 200% in the three years since February 2004. The index to mid February 2007 is 35.1% higher than in February 2006.
Many employer groups have called on the federal government to increase the intake of migrants to address Australia's continuing skills shortages. There have also been calls to alter the skills and qualifications to allow more immigrants to take advantage of the program.
The government placed a freeze on permanent skilled migration last year, which has led to greater use of the 457 visa scheme. Temporary visas grew 45% in 2005-06 reaching 39,530.
In its submission, ITCRA makes eight recommendations. A key recommendation relates to the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL).
ITCRA has called for the current occupation classifications listed on the MODL for computing professionals specializing in particular skill sets be increased to reflect demand.
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