Wednesday, 1 April 2009
Today the Government announced changes to the Subclass 457 visa program in order to ensure that it continues to provide industry with needed skills, while not undermining local training and employment opportunities.
These measures were developed through 2008 following the commitment by the Government in last year’s Budget to implement a package of longer-term reforms to the 457 visa program in 2009 to improve both its integrity and ability to deliver the skills needed in the economy.
This package includes responses to recommendations from the Deegan Review into the integrity of the 457 visa program and the views of stakeholders on the Skilled Migration Consultative Panel.
The Government will be considering further measures in the context of the 2009 Budget.
The 457 visa program plays an important role in the Australian economy. It is an uncapped temporary visa program entirely driven by employer demand for skills that are not available locally. It allows employers to access the skills they need, with the overseas workers then returning home when those skills are no longer required.
The 457 visa program rapidly grew over the period 2003 - 2007 as a combination of the resources boom and a failure to invest in training saw widespread skill shortages emerge across the economy.
Given the growth in the size of the program it has become increasingly important that the 457 visa program complements domestic recruitment and training initiatives to meet the skill needs of industry and does not seek to replace them.
Alongside that growth, community concerns grew over the exploitation of overseas workers and the undermining of local wages and conditions after cases of some employers abusing the program emerged through 2005 - 2007. The vast majority of these cases involved trades’ level 457 visa holders with little or no English language skills who often lacked the technical skills claimed.
It was in response to the widespread concern about these abuses that the Government made it a priority to improve the integrity of the 457 visa and restore public confidence in the program.
The 2008 Budget included a number of immediate measures to address those concerns, including an increase to the minimum salary level (MSL) for the first time in two years, the passage of legislation to enhance monitoring and sanction powers and funding for increased compliance activity.
These 2008 measures also included the appointment of AIRC Commissioner Barbara Deegan to review the integrity of the 457 visa program through 2008 and the establishment of the Skilled Migration Consultative Panel to contribute towards the development of longer-term reforms to be introduced in 2009.
The seven measures announced today are:
These measures were developed through 2008 in response to concerns about the integrity of the 457 visa program, at a time when the demand for skills was high and the program was growing strongly.
- The indexation of the minimum salary level (MSL) for all new and existing 457 visa holders by 4.1% on 1 July 2009, in line with all employees’ total earnings last year as reported by the ABS. This ensures that the wages of overseas workers keep pace with local wages.
- The implementation of a market based minimum salary for all new and existing 457 visa holders from mid September 2009, to ensure overseas workers are not exploited and local wages and conditions are not undermined (a key recommendation of the Deegan Review).
- Increasing the existing minimum language requirement from 4.5 IELTS to 5 IELTS for 457 visa applicants in trade occupations and chefs, to address concerns about the exploitation of workers from non-English speaking countries and align the 457 visa English language standard with the permanent sponsored visa for trades’ occupations.
- Progressively introducing formal skills assessment from 1 July 2009 for 457 visa applicants from high risk immigration countries in trade occupations and chefs. The Government will consult with stakeholders in finalising an assessment framework that reflects Australian standards and meets the expectations of Australian workplaces.
- Introducing a requirement that employers seeking access to the 457 visa program have a strong record of, or demonstrated commitment to, employing local labour and non-discriminatory employment practices. This will help address concerns that some employers may discriminate against local labour in hiring overseas workers.
- The development of training benchmarks to clarify the existing requirement on employers to demonstrate a commitment to training local labour.
- The extension of the labour agreement pathway to all ASCO 5 – 7 occupations, to ensure that employers using the 457 visa program to access these occupations satisfy obligations on local training and employment.
In the six months to December 2008 the numbers of 457 visa applications were running at historically high levels, with an average 700 primary visa applications a week lodged by people offshore seeking to come to Australia on a 457 visa.
The slow down in the Australian economy in the wake of the global financial crisis and the subsequent decline in demand for 457 visas has not diminished the need to implement these measures and restore public confidence in the program.
The first three months of 2009 has seen on average 430 primary visa applications a week lodged by people offshore seeking to come to Australia on a 457 visa. This shows that the program is responding to the changing economic circumstances.
These measures announced today represent fundamental and long-term improvements to the 457 visa program.
Thanks very much indeed for starting this thread. I think the changes could be very important for some of our members, so I have made the thread sticky.
I've got a million questions about the changes to the 457 program. One of them is how it sits against the new Policy announced in February 2009?
I also want to know how it affects people whose occupations are within Groups 5 to 7 of the ASCO Code:
1220.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO) Second Edition, 1997
Still compiling my list of questions at the moment, I will post them all later.
Many thanks again