07/05/2008 - 22:00

457 visa review leads to overhaul

07/05/2008 - 22:00

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It was meant to be a stopgap solution for companies facing staff shortages, but industry groups say the 457 business visa has been beset with problems from the outset.

457 visa review leads to overhaul

It was meant to be a stopgap solution for companies facing staff shortages, but industry groups say the 457 business visa has been beset with problems from the outset.

Critics point to a system mired in bureaucracy and processing delays, while several high-profile instances of abuse of the system have been documented. 

Despite this, the 457 visa system is about to receive an overhaul, with the federal government’s external reference group handing down its review findings this week.

One move which is likely to be welcomed by industry is the decision to base a specialised team in Perth to process visa applications for projects in WA. Delays will also be eased by a fast-tracking system for employers with a good record of compliance with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. 

While these changes will improve the front end of the system, anecdotal reports point to a crackdown on employer breaches by DIAC.

Last month, 11 illegal workers were found picking fruit near Margaret River in the South West, having either overstayed or worked without an appropriate visa.

The workers, from Malaysia and China, were recruited by a contractor and hired out to farms in the region, as well as a local labour hire firm.

A spokesperson for DIAC said no action against the labour hire firm had been taken, although investigations were continuing into the contractor that had supplied the workers. The contractor has been issued with a formal illegal worker warning notice, and will face a fine of $13,200 or two years in jail for subsequent breaches.

Recruitment and immigration specialist Dan Engles said many businesses were concerned about their level of compliance with the system.

“It’s a reflection of what the department [of immigration and citizenship] is doing at the moment, they’re going out there with a sledgehammer,” he said.

Mr Engles said he expected legislation requiring employers to pay the costs of recruiting foreign workers would be revived in the near future, which could lead to further breaches.

The legislation was shelved after the change of federal government in November.

Mr Engles said the findings of the 457 visa review sent a clear message to employers.

“Basically, they’re saying if you get the tick of approval from DIAC, your application will be accelerated, but if you do the wrong thing, you won’t get access to the system,” he said.

In total, 16 recommendations were made by the group of industry representatives, which included the University of Western Australia’s energy and minerals director, Tim Shanahan.

Other changes to be introduced include measures to improve competition between English language service providers to make language testing more efficient, and more resources for DIAC to assist employers in lodging applications.

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