What was initially intended as a way of plugging temporary skills gaps had become a permanent feature of the Australian labour market. Thanks to some common sense from our new Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor, 457 visas will be tightened.
Employers should only be permitted to grant visas under the 457 visa subclass where the Australian Government establishes that there are skill shortages in the occupation sponsored in the capital city or region where the employer is located.
The 457 program is uncapped. In 2011-12, there were 68,310 visas allocated to such employer-sponsored 457 primary applicants – up from 48,080 in 2010-11. Further, there are no caps on the number visas issued to Working Holiday Makers, visitors or students, nor any restrictions on the movement of New Zealand citizens to Australia
The number of visas issued to temporary foreign workers under the 457 scheme in the past has outstripped the number of visas granted to permanent skilled migrants. There is every possibility that this is happening now. Although the permanent skilled intake is capped at present to 210,000 permanent visas, the employer-driven 457 visa scheme is not. Australians have been discriminated against in their job searching.
Our government previously overestimated our jobs growth, and projected large shortages of skills. According to a report from the Centre of Population and Urban Research , by Bob Birrell and Earnest Healy, employment growth has slowed to about 100,000 a year, but there has been no corresponding adjustment in this immigration policy. On the contrary, our government's permanent residency immigration program has increased and they continue to encourage employers to sponsor 457 visa holders, regardless of the industry, occupation or location of the employer - and their numbers are uncapped.
Ironically, AMMA (Australian Mines and Metals Association) chief executive Steve Knott said the overseas skilled migration program played a small but critically important role in the resource industry.
"With $650 billion worth of resource projects proposed for our country, it is an absolute fact that our industry cannot source all the skilled people it needs domestically," Mr Knott said in a statement on Sunday. These projects should benefit Australians and reduce welfare spending and unemployment, not transcend our nation.
Almost half of our skilled migrants end up in the cities of Melbourne and Sydney, adding to our population pressure, instead of being targeted to where their skills are needed.
The Roy Morgan May Unemployment estimate last year showed that Australia has a large ‘cohort’ of unemployed (997,000 – 8.2%) and underemployed (1,107,000 – 9.0%). A total of 2.1 million (17.2%) Australians were either looking for work or want to work more hours.
Instead of adjusting immigration rates according to economic conditions, they have been increased, with many uncapped categories. While short-term skills shortages may be plugged through the use of foreign labour, the long term needs strong investment in our own young people, and our existing under-utilised skilled labour, all who need to be given a "fair go".
The surge of Working Holiday Makers (WHM) is a prime example. For example, the number of Irish citizens visaed under the WHM program increased from 14,790 in 2009-10 to 25,827 in 2011-12.
The Australian Government should also restrict the work conditions on these visas to allowing work as a direct employee only (as with the 457 visa) and not as a so-called’ independent contractor’. Under current visa rules, overseas students and WHMs can take out an Australian Business Number (or 33 ABN) and employers can engage them as ‘ABN workers’ pretending to work as independent contractors running their own businesses when it fact they are disguised employees.
The Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) issue has brought the 457 visa program to public attention. Like other 457 visas, Roy Hill did not have to give Australian workers an opportunity to apply for the jobs.
The EMA arrangements have been based on claims that domestic workers are unwilling to work in remote settings. Yet, by October 2012, some 27,500 job seekers had registered an interest for such work on the Government’s Resources Sector Jobs Board.
The 457 visa has also become a conduit for migrants seeking a permanent residence outcome. By the 2000s, about half of those originally visaed as 457 visa holders, have, after five years, obtained a permanent residence visa, the great majority of whom were sponsored by the original employer.
All that is required is that the 457 visa holder has been employed for two years by the sponsoring employer. It seems likely that some employers are conniving with overseas students and other temporary migrants by providing them with a desperately sought pathway to permanent residence.
Employers should only have this right if – as the Labor migration policy statement cited above states – they can prove there is a genuine shortage of the skills of the sponsored migrants.
If the maintenance of high immigration is undermining the employment situation of Australians, then the immigration policy settings should be adjusted accordingly.
There might be some benefits to globalization, but not if projects don't benefit Australians, and residents are undermined by cheaper and more flexible foreign labour.
Dr Bob Birrell, Ernest Healy, “Immigration Overshoot”, Centre for Population and Urban Research, Novermber 2012 Monash University
Dr Bob Birrell and Ernest Healy “The Impact of Recent Immigration on the Australian Workforce ”, Centre for Population and Urban Research – February 2013