457 Visa changes a half measure - Failing to address real skills issues

© The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship

The Federal Opposition applauds any measures to better protect Australian workers, train local workers, and off-shore recruitment into jobs that cannot be filled locally.

"However, the Labor Government’s announcement yesterday fails to solve the problems staff reductions in the Immigration Department have created, in particular the time delays and complexities that leave employers frustrated and angry, and which further jeopardises their viability in these difficult times," Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Dr Sharman Stone said today.

"It may make some unions happy that the new measures announced will make minimum salary level foreign workers more expensive to hire than locals, but low skilled or semi skilled employment has never been the focus or the business of the 457 temporary skilled visa category.

"The principles of not exploiting foreign workers or discriminating against locals have always been at the heart of the 457 visa program, introduced by the Coalition in 1997 to overcome critical skill shortages around the country.

"However, the focus of these seven changes is on the tiny proportion of visa holders who are allowed to enter under special circumstances to fill less skilled categories. They are less than 10% of all 457 visa holders. So, for example, raising the threshold of the Minimum Salary Level from $43,440 to $45,420 for all 457 visa holders is fine, but applies to few, given the average wage for 457 workers is $76,000. Prosecutions of employers of 457 workers for breaches of any conditions are also less than 1%," Sharman Stone said.

"Thus the Federal Government’s long awaited new measures fail to take in the realities now confronting the economy as a range of employers struggle to deal with critical skill shortages that cannot be met through training in the short term. For example, the Coalition hugely increased the numbers of doctors and nurses in training, additional surgeons, nurses and other health professionals are needed today, especially in regional areas. 457 visas can potentially meet this critical short to medium term need.

"The failure of a hospital or a small business to find key staff in Australia can jeopardise the jobs of others in that work place.

"Unfortunately, businesses are now finding that the time it takes to get approvals and process and import critically needed skills is blowing out. Australia is simply loosing its ability to compete globally for these critical skills. Doctors forced to wait six months for a decision simply go elsewhere.

"None of the seven new measures announced addresses shortening time frames or streamlines the application processes, in particular improving systems of comparing and assessing off-shore qualifications.

"The fact that more than 50% of the skilled 457 visa holders return home with their families within two years, despite an on-going need of their skills is also ignored, and needs thorough investigation and appropriate responses," Sharman Stone said.

"The Federal government also acknowledges that it has not yet worked out how to implement all of their seven measures, for example, how to assess formal skills in high risk countries, or how to assess when a company has satisfactorily demonstrated a commitment to training local staff.

"This is a half measure that leaves key sectors and their Australian workforce frustrated and angry.


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