Sneha Venkateswaran analyses the outcome of abolishing a visa that’s been a lifeline for Indians wanting to work and live in Australia
When news of US President Donald Trump refurbishing the H-IB Visa programme came to light, the blow became double with Australia, deciding to scrap its 457 Visa for skilled workers. The Australian Government on 18 April announced the abolishment of the 457 Visa, to be replaced by new temporary visas. The news made foreign workers across the country worried about how it may affect their future employment. But before we get to that, let’s understand what the 457 Visa is all about.
The 457 visa was a business visa allowing Australian employers to bring highly skilled foreign workers into the Australian workplace, to occupy positions that could not be filled by the local Australian workforce. The 457 Visa holders will be able to live and work in Australia for up to four years, bring family members to Australia via secondary visa and become permanent citizens in Australia after two years (under employer sponsorship).
Permanent Residency will be harder to establish as the two-year visa now provides no ‘residency-pathway’. But the two-year visa has the scope of being extended by the employer on need to need basis
Under the new government regulations, the 457 Visa is removed and replaced by two new temporary skills visas—a two-year visa and a four-year visa. For both, recruiting foreign workers with high-level skills and language is needed. Both these new visas will require people to provide evidence of a police/criminal background history check, at least two years relevant work experience and higher proven English language ability. Permanent Residency will be harder to establish as the two-year visa now provides no ‘residency-pathway’. But the two-year visa has the scope of being extended by the employer on need to need basis. The permanent residence eligibility period of four-year visa-holders will be extended to three years.
The Australian government has also announced that the number of occupations available for temporary skilled migration has been brought down from 651 to 435. Eligible occupations will be reviewed every six months to ensure that these are aligned with Australia’s skills needs.
The new Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS Visa) is for sponsoring companies to fly in skilled employees from overseas and it’s not intended to students who want to seek out jobs. According to the new law, the Australian employers will be required to advertise all jobs to Australian citizens first, before they are able to extend job offers to foreign workers.
Why the change
Since last year, employers have been under pressure to meet certain conditions regarding sponsoring workers to come to Australia on the 457 Visa program. These changes came to light when stories of employers supposedly manipulating the 457 applications process were published. Now, according to new requirements, the employers must employ Australians first and try them for four months, and find out whether they are fit to fill the relevant vacancies before the employer nominates a suitable worker from overseas.
So long as an employer nominates an overseas worker to perform a job on this list, then the occupation is deemed to be in need. IT, nursing, teaching, engineering, law and many more are all on this list
These changes also came with a mountain of paperwork for businesses to prove their efforts and expenditure in search of local employees. For small businesses especially, this meant a significant increase in time and costs that they could not afford. At present there is no proper method for ensuring there is a skill shortage for the jobs in which employers are using 457 Visas.
The mechanism for identifying who can apply for these visas is the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List. This is a list that has no requirement that the occupation be in demand within the Australian labour market. It includes more than 600 occupations, most of which are not in shortage. So long as an employer nominates an overseas worker to perform a job on this list, then the occupation is deemed to be in need. IT, nursing, teaching, engineering, law and many more are all on this list, and are also occupations where Australian graduates are struggling to enter the labour market.
This means the 457 Visa can be used by employers who wish to access foreign labour for a hidden motive. While most decent employers will not do this, research shows there is a core group of employers that prefer temporary migrant workers because they are more compliant, work harder and are less likely to complain.
As the previous 457 Visa did not have any police/criminal background check or higher English language proficiency test, many foreign workers after gaining local experience here, apply to become permanent resident and citizens of Australia.
As stated before, the new government regulation aims to provide equal and fair opportunities to all workers. This move or change was introduced to recruit Australian workers first and where necessary, fill real skill gaps by the best foreign workers. The government also aims to have equal pay rates for local and migrant workers. It also wants employers to respond to a skills shortage by setting higher wages, providing better career opportunities or training workers.
But the social media and many forums online are filled with people’s concerns on how the new change is going to affect their family’s and job prospects. A student studying a post-doctoral research said, “Axing the 457 Visa terrifies me, frankly. I’m not sure how it’s going to affect my future job prospects.”
If the governments lacks in supporting the start-up firms here, it would drive Australian start-ups to either outsource more or relocate to other more ‘start-up-friendly’ countries, which is exactly what the Turnbull government does not want
But there is nothing to be worried about, if you or someone you know is on an existing 457 Visa here. The announced 475 Visa abolition will not have any effect on your circumstances; 457 Visas issued prior to 18 April 2017 will remain unchanged.
Since only small percentage of international students move on to a 457 Visa on completion of their student Visa, these changes to skilled migration by the Australian government do not directly affect them. The Australian authorities state that international students, who have completed their bachelor’s, master’s or a PhD—on a student Visa, can still apply for post study work through the 485 Visa. An Indian Visa consultant who did not wish to be named said “My phone is constantly ringing with worried parents wanting to know how the changes will impact their children studying there and how challenging it will be for new applicants.”
If the government’s long-term goal is to nurture the local workforce, then they should do more by hiring inexperienced workers and get them trained by their employers. But if the governments lacks in supporting the start-up firms here, it would drive Australian start-ups to either outsource more or relocate to other more ‘start-up-friendly’ countries, which is exactly what the Turnbull government does not want.
I regard Australia to be a multi-cultural country. That means scientists, chefs, technology developers, musicians and many more skilled professionals who work in our cities and contribute to keeping their various industries buoyant, also represent Australia. These people are only doing their job but now with the new changes in the Visa they are just left with uncertainties. But the government is also not wrong in asking to test for higher proven English language ability or to run background checks. The idea is to bringing in certain checks and balances to ensure only quality candidates are given temporary working visa.