*Warning – this is a serious post about something on The News. If you don’t like The News, just scroll on past*
Whether or not you have had any personal involvement with the immigration system, chances are if you watch The News on any channel you’ve heard of the 457 visa scheme. Every so often, politicians will take aim at the 457 visa scheme as a cheap way to score points on the topic of immigration.
If you’re not too sure exactly what a 457 visa is here’s a quick summary:
- A 457 visa is a temporary employer sponsored visa, valid for up to 4 years.
- The visa holder must be sponsored into a particular job. Before sponsoring the visa holder, the employer must nominate that the job fits into one of the categories on a list of skilled occupations, and, that they are unable to find an Australian worker to fill the role.
- The visa holder must work for their sponsor and only for their sponsor.
- If the visa holder's employment ends they have 28 days, soon to be increased to 90 days, to find a new sponsor and lodge a new visa application.
This topic touches a nerve with me because I have had personal involvement with the immigration system. I was once a 457 visa holder. Until recently, I thought that having a job, paying taxes etc. made me an alright kind of immigrant, but apparently not. Apparently I ‘took a job away from an Australian’.
Let’s think about that for a minute. Did I ‘take a job away from an Australian’? The job market is just that, a market. Employers will always want to get the best employees for the best price. Employees are looking not only for a salary but for a job that offers good prospects for the future. The 457 visa regulations state that employers must look for suitable Australian workers first, but in practice an employer cannot be forced to employ a person just because they have, on paper, the relevant skills and experience for the job. Otherwise, why would we have job interviews? There will always be an element of subjectivity in the employment process.
A worker sponsored on a 457 visa is motivated not only by money. They are earning their opportunity to live in Australia, and they are prepared to work hard for it. After two years, an employer can convert a 457 visa into an 856 permanent residence visa. The employer receives at least two years service from a committed employee and the employee has earned their Australian permanent residency.
If the above sounds a little like the employer has some kind of hold over the employee, which could be exploited, be aware that there are strict laws, strengthened in 2009, to ensure that sponsored workers have the same pay, conditions and entitlements as Australian workers. The law also includes minimum salary levels for sponsored workers.
The most recent political points scoring exercise involving 457 visas was targeted at the IT industry, making the blows strike even closer to home for me. I think the 457 visa debate in regards to the IT industry has got a little clouded. Statements are thrown around about workers being made redundant and then replaced by cheaper workers on 457 visas, but everyone knows that an employer cannot simply make one worker redundant and then replace them with another in the same role. The true story is that many companies now outsource certain IT functions rather than directly employing workers to perform those functions. I won’t delve into the cost / benefit analysis of these arrangements, I think that’s a topic for another day, but let’s call out the real problem here, IT outsourcing and the use of the 457 visa scheme by IT outsourcing companies.
IT outsourcing companies do not appear to seek Australian employees prior to bringing overseas workers to Australia. I might be wrong, I can only speak as I see, but that’s certainly how it looks to people within the industry and beyond. I need to make it very clear at this point that the question mark hangs over the recruitment practices of the outsourcing company, not over the workers themselves, their skills or their intentions in Australia. The intentions of outsourcing workers suddenly finding themselves onshore in Australia are the same as anyone else; work hard and make the most of this opportunity. I also need to add that some outsourced workers I have met are among the hardest working people in the office.
IT workers in Australia have been heard to complain that the employment of overseas workers on 457 visas has driven down wages in the industry. I disagree. For many years there was a genuine shortage of skilled IT workers in Australia. This skills shortage pushed wages artificially high, particularly for contract work, as employers competed to get the right people on board for specific projects. The skills shortage has gradually reduced due to skilled migration and now, with a larger number of workers for employers to choose from, there is less competition to find employees and wages have settled down as a result. This is the effect of market forces; the job market is a changing market. The top end, from a pay packet point of view, of the IT job market has narrowed and those still seeking work at that end will need to prove their worth.
On 1st July 2013 a number of changes were implemented to strengthen the integrity of the 457 visa scheme*. Looking into the details of this announcement, the new measures are actually plugging a number of loopholes that should never have been there in the first place. A discussion paper** published on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) website reveals that, until the recent changes, the department had very limited powers to decline visa applications where the job has been ‘dressed up’ to fit into the requirements of the visa scheme, or where the employer could in fact have found suitable Australian workers.
There will undoubtedly be extra scrutiny of 457 visa applications in the near future. I’m glad I’m not going through the visa application process now. I don’t think either my employer or I ‘rorted the system’, as the politicians like to say, in any way, but I was certainly a lucky beneficiary.
At the end of the day, the whole Australian immigration process, whichever visa class or subclass you are working towards, is a minefield. Very few manage to get through without some kind of setback. The renewed focus on 457 visas will eventually drop off again. Migration agents, sponsors and visa applicants will find their way around the tightened regulations. Honest, hardworking people will continue to find a way through the system to start a new life in Australia, and there will always be people in Australia who despite having the good fortune of living here do not believe that others deserve the same chance.
Nicki Ranger is a freelance writer currently based in Perth, Western Australia.
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