Since 2012, the 457 temporary (skilled) employer-sponsored visa program has operated under a demand-driven, rather than a supply-driven system. With recent changes to the program, the focus is now driven by employers seeking workers for identified skills shortages, rather than skilled immigrants migrating to Australia independently to look for jobs.
Essentially, this shift is about filling Australian jobs, rather than accommodating foreign workers. Previously, 457 visa holders could apply for permanent residency after two years if their company sponsored them, but now there are two occupation lists that clearly divide temporary and permanent visa outcomes for applicants.
These lists not only reduce the formally established gateway to permanency, but are subject to regular change, and bring instability to both applicants and businesses. Occupations listed on the long-term occupation list can proceed to permanent residency after three years; however, occupations on the shorter-term list can only progress to another two-year visa, and then no further.
The 457 will be referred to as the Temporary Skills Shortage Visa from March 2018, further cementing this shift in emphasis from pathway to permanency, to temporary employment solution. So, what does this mean for our economy and businesses? Let’s embark on a 457 visa reality check.
The changes mean that employers are now obligated to train other Australian permanent residents or citizens within their companies – in the area of the skills shortage – and further demonstrate that a percentage of their payroll is being paid towards this training. So, in fact, through upskilling and training in the workplace, Australian workers will now also benefit from the 457 program.
Global research published last year reveals that Australia is falling behind other countries when it comes to our school’s education results, which is another argument in support of the 457 program. Given our comparatively woeful results, it is claimed that if the problems in our education system are not resolved (and soon), some Australian businesses would stagnate due to skills shortages and could be forced to move offshore if it were not for the 457 program.
The other major player in this debate is, of course, Australia’s unemployment rate. When there are no jobs, particularly for young people, migrants become an easy scapegoat. But this argument fails when the benefits of the 457 program for Australian workers are taken into consideration.
The 457 program provides opportunities to Australian businesses and their workers to learn about foreign markets and, in turn, become more competitive. This is a reality of modernity and global markets. It is better to have skilled foreign workers spending their money and paying taxes in Australia, as opposed to establishing businesses overseas and removing the opportunities altogether.
In essence, the 457 program remains popular, and is regarded as a highly developed system that the UK and other countries have sought to adopt. It is a shame that despite the obvious merits and benefits of the program, the media and some of our politicians continue to wheel out the old line about ‘foreigners taking jobs from Aussies’.
These negative characterisations are merely political exploitations of fears about healthcare provision, housing and services and the product of the shock jock and sound bite mentality that commonly exists in the Australian media, where headlines count and detail is superfluous. It simply does not reflect the reality.
These recent changes appear to be politically motivated and designed to appease Pauline Hanson anti-immigration supporters, as well as addressing rorts that have, no doubt, occurred. But which is worse for our society? The reality is that Australia as a nation continues to be benefit from immigration, just as we did following World War II. Since 1945, immigrants and their descendants have accounted for more than half of the nation’s population growth.
Many factors, in particular our geographical isolation, mean that the more we embrace immigration and other cultures, particularly within the workplace, the more we can continue to strive towards becoming a true multicultural society, which directly impacts our ability to become a genuine competitor on the global stage.