The troubled Turnbull government has set aside budget planning to announce it is scrapping the 457-visa program in favour of one with stricter controls and mandates to employ Australians.
The Prime Minister unveiled the new scheme via a Facebook release yesterday, enunciating Australia as “the most successful” immigration and multi-cultural nation in the world, but stressing that Australian workers must have priority for local jobs.
The news will see the current 457-visa system for skilled immigrant workers scrapped in favour of a two-tier short- and medium-term Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa system with a raft of conditions for employers and safeguards for Aussie workers.
Significantly, the list of eligible professions has been slashed by 216; the shorter 2-year visas available from a list of 268 job types, the longer 4-year visas will focus on long-term skill gaps within 167 designated occupations.
The TSS visas will include requirements in work experience and English language proficiency, will be subject to labour market testing before granted, and have the new condition of a mandatory criminal record check.
Workers under a 2-year TSS will not be eligible for permanent residency. Workers under the 4-year visas will be required to demonstrate at least three years’ work experience and greater English language skills, with a maximum possible age of 45 years.
Employers will be required to advertise jobs before attempting to fill them with foreign workers, and conduct greater training requirements for Australian workers.
Latest figures show that there are currently 94,890 primary 457 visa holders in Australia, which represents less than one per cent of the working population. This is a decrease of 14 per cent since its peak of 110,000 in 2013.
ANU Development Policy Centre research officer Henry Sherrell says foreign worker visas are a suitable bridge to employment challenges in changing economic times.
“As employers must sponsor migrants, it is employers who drive the trends of how many visas are being granted from year to year. As the economy grows, demand for 457 visas should increase. The same also works in reverse.”
PM Turnbull criticised the expansion of the program under the Labor administration, calling former employment minister Bill Shorten the “gold medal winner” of issuing foreign workers visas.
“During his time the number of 457s increased by two-thirds during the last term of the Labor government.”
The Australian Hotels Association has called on the Turnbull government to consider hospitality’s reliance on the stop-gap visas to address its specific needs, as the industry continues its largest ever expansion.
“The hospitality industry is growing at unprecedented rates at the present and the demand for skilled labour is at all-time highs with this complete transformation of Australia’s hotel industry,” said AHA CEO, Stephen Ferguson.
“Australia’s hospitality sector has responded with a wide range of training and career development programs, but with such a rapid increase in tourism it is impossible to meet the demand for skilled labour in the short-term through local channels, especially in regional and remote Australia.”
Workers already in Australia under 457-visas will not be affected by the changes, which begin immediately and due to be completed by March 2018.