Australia to scrap 457 visa program

Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister.

Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced that the 457 skilled visa program will be replaced by a new visa with added requirements for temporary foreign workers.

“We are putting jobs first, we are putting Australians first…we are an immigration nation, but the fact remains that Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs,” the PM announced this week via social network Facebook. “We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.”

The 457 visa program was designed for Australian or overseas employers to sponsor skilled overseas workers to work in the country temporarily. The program offered two main pathways – business sponsorship and self-sponsorship.

It will now be replaced by two temporary visas – one for two-year stays and another for four-year stays. Under the new system, employers wishing to sponsor individuals for the visas will be required to prove that candidates have at least two years of previous work experience and a higher level of English language competence than is currently required. They will also need to carry out stricter labour market testing and have the candidate undergo a criminal background check.

According to the Federal Government, the number of eligible jobs for the visas will be cut from 651 to 435, with application fees to increase. It also said that current 457 visa holders will not be affected by the changes.

The Business Council of Australia said the cancellation of the 457 program will help rebuild public confidence. “The capacity for businesses to hire temporary workers to fill genuine skill shortages has been an overall boon for Australia, allowing the economy to ride out volatile economic cycles – including in the mining industry,” said Jennifer Westacott, CEO, Business Council.

“Businesses naturally prefer to hire Australians wherever possible – it’s easier, it’s cheaper and it means workers come ready with valuable local knowledge and skills. However, when there aren’t enough skilled workers available, a small number of temporary visas can be the deciding factor in whether or not a large investment goes ahead.

“Now that the Government has taken this decision, it is crucial that they work with employers to get the details right and ensure industry’s ability to fill genuine skills shortages is enhanced, not degraded.

“If we’re serious about getting Australians into skilled jobs, we must also revitalise our neglected vocational education and training system which has been treated like the poor cousin of the universities. We also need to look at the kinds of incentives that could encourage Australians to take up jobs in regional areas.”

VTA CEO Peter Anderson welcomed the Commonwealth’s review of the 457 visa system.

“The replacement of the current scheme by a two-tiered system will provide focus on industry based skill shortages that will also attract training funding,” Anderson said.

“It is expected that there will be more funds available for training in industries that will have a skills shortage, it will also give the opportunity for the transport industry to identify and develop specific skill shortages that will attract training funding.

“The 457 system has been taken advantage of by industry sectors and employment groups for years.

“The new system will provide greater accountability and will identify the areas of real skill shortage.”

In a statement, the Australian Truck Association (ATA) noted that  the abolishment of the 457 visa program should have little effect for truck drivers since the occupation is not currently featured on the list of eligible job positions.

“It is currently possible to bring truck drivers into Australia under labour agreements where appropriate, and these proved invaluable for employers in regional areas during the mining investment boom,” the statement said. “This announcement made it clear that these regional arrangements can continue where required.

“The ATA is concerned about the quality of truck driver training and assessment generally, not just for overseas drivers. There are many excellent trainers. Others train to a price.

“They guarantee how long the course will take, regardless of how competent you are at the end of it, or they do not use industry standard equipment. Operators are particularly concerned about the variable quality of training in chain of responsibility, load restraint, fatigue management and work health and safety.”

The ATA is a member of the Transport and Logistics Industry Reference Committee, which was set up by the Australian Government to provide advice on training standards.