13/03/2007 - 22:00

457 visa review under way

13/03/2007 - 22:00

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The 457 temporary long-stay business visa may have helped to alleviate skills shortages in Australia, but extensive processing times and onerous compliance requirements on employers are limiting its effectiveness, according to some industry groups.

457 visa review under way

The 457 temporary long-stay business visa may have helped to alleviate skills shortages in Australia, but extensive processing times and onerous compliance requirements on employers are limiting its effectiveness, according to some industry groups.

A federal joint standing committee on migration is currently inviting submissions to assess the adequacy of eligibility, monitoring and reporting requirements for the 457 visa, as well as areas for procedural improvement.

Introducing a formal skills assessment process is one area of concern for employers, with some believing unnecessary time delays would result. 

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA says formal skills assessments should not be introduced, but rather employers should evaluate the skills of employees they sponsor.

However, a joint submission by Engineers Australia and the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia (APESMA) says oversees employees in the engineering sector should undergo a skills assessment prior to visas being granted.

The organisations believe the two overriding areas of concern regarding 457 visas are the potential for employers to overlook training needs domestically, in favour of using ‘off-the-shelf’ skills available overseas, and for local salaries and conditions to be driven down.

Their submission proposes a number of reforms, including introducing a minimum period for which an applicant must have been employed in their field of work; abolishing the existing age limit to bring in experienced professionals over the age of 45; and introducing a sponsorship fee.

The sponsorship fee would be used for training Australian citizens in occupations of high demand, english language training for migrants and to provide scholarships for Australians to study in fields with known labour shortages.

Assessing english language proficiency is also a recurrent issue in the submissions, with many organisations saying requirements are too onerous and testing should be administered locally.

CCIWA says english language requirements “should be discretionary and appropriate to the specific duties being performed by overseas employees”, while the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) believes “competency should be able to be attained upon arrival in Australia”.

A number of organisations also believe that businesses with a clean record of compliance should be exempt from meeting certain requirements.

According to the AMMA, “the resources sector has complied with the spirit and intention of the legislation and should not be restricted by measures designed to counter concerns in other sectors.”

Proposed labour market testing is one requirement the AMMA feels should not apply to the resources sector, as it would cause unnecessary delays.

Their position is supported by CCIWA, which regards testing as an “additional imposition and financial burden on employers”.

However, the Peel Development Commission believes labour market testing should be an essential requirement for business sponsors.

The Engineers Australia and APESMA also believe labour market testing should be mandatory, with exceptions made only in specific and limited cases.

With regard to sponsorship obligations, CCIWA says a greater awareness by employers of existing obligations and consequences of breaching these is required.

The Association of Consulting Engineers Australia says that while it supports monitoring of the visa process, the potential for this to create a regulatory burden and additional cost and delay should be considered.

The organisation said that compliance activity should be more sharply focused on the small percentage of non-compliant businesses, and that special status should be accorded to those sponsors with a proven track record.

The ACEA also believes that visa processing time need to be streamlined.

Salary is also an issue, particularly for small employers, with the WA government requiring the non-regional minimum salary level (MSL) of $41,850 (for non-ICT occupations) apply in regional areas, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

CCI WA says the MSL is above market rate in some areas, and this approach should be abolished in favour of an ‘appropriate industrial instrument’ specified at the start of the nomination process.

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