19/04/2017 - 13:16

Corporate opposition to 457 visa axing

19/04/2017 - 13:16

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Parts of corporate Australia have attacked the federal government's axing of 457 immigration work visas, claiming it is a politically driven move and unfairly targets less than 1 per cent of the workforce.

Malcolm Turnbull’s plans for 457 visas have been criticised. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Parts of corporate Australia have attacked the federal government's axing of 457 immigration work visas, claiming it is a politically driven move and unfairly targets less than 1 per cent of the workforce.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors says the overhaul of the visa system is a populist and protectionist move by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government.

The 457 visa program has played an important role in addressing skill shortages, particularly during the mining investment boom, according to the group's chief economist, Stephen Walters.

"Shifts like this towards a populist, inward-looking, or protectionist approach by either side of politics ignore the fact that Australia is a participant in a global market for labour and capital," Mr Walters said.

Australia needs an appropriate, non-discriminatory skilled migration program to help offset the ageing population, he said.

Until the replacement program was in place, it was difficult to assess whether it better addressed the nation's skills shortages, Mr Walters said.

The 457 visas are to be replaced by two visas, a temporary two-year visa and a four-year visa with tighter eligibility rules, including a high command of the English language and a criminal check.

The current list of 651 occupations that now qualify for a temporary visa will be cut to 435, including the likes of nurses, cooks and mechanics.

Those to be cut include computer technicians, petroleum engineers, geophysicists and marine surveyors, as well as goat farmers, singers and zookeepers.

Michael Wall, national leader of KPMG's immigration practice, said there was no evidence that the current system was not working properly.

"It is a demand-driven program, and the number of 457 visas has been on a decline over the last few years," Mr Wall said, noting there were 95,000 workers on the 457 visas, less than 1 per cent of the workforce of about 12 million.

"It is more expensive to hire people on 457s than recruit locally, so employers only do this when there are skills gaps they cannot fill domestically." 

He said the changes went against a commitment to increase innovation, and created uncertainty for foreign companies seeking to invest or do business in Australia.

Resource industry group AMMA said it should be recognised that the 457 visa program had worked as intended.

"The system was built to be responsive to changes in our economy and fluctuating labour demand, and has delivered on this objective," acting chief executive Tara Diamond said.
 
Ms Diamond said the 457 scheme allowed the resource industry to adapt to dramatic changes in labour demand and skills availability.
 
She cited Department of Immigration figures showing the resources industry made 6,630 applications for 457 visas in 2011-12, falling to 2,600 in 2013-14 and just 230 in 2016-17.

Ms Diamond said the announced changes may prove useful but there were bigger issues for the federal govcernment to tackle.

 

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