On Tuesday Malcolm Turnbull took to Facebook of all places to announce the abolishment of the most commonly used program to live and work in Australia on a temporary basis; the 457 visa. The reaction has been mixed. The Australian Medical Association have “cautiously” welcomed the announcement (whatever that means) whilst one of our largest infrastructure and consulting firms, Aurecon said it will always require specific overseas skills for its projects. So whilst those heavily linked with the migration industry come to terms with some brand new acronyms (MLTSSL, STSOL, LMTSSL, #OMG) and the mad rush for PR begins, the ultimate question is WHY?
Here’s our take on it!
The 457 Visa program was launched by John Howard in 1996, and represented a shift from the more traditional settlement (10 Pound Poms) style of immigration. It was, and always has been, designed to entice global talent to Australia temporarily to help upskill industry and drive Australia forward. The Living away from home allowance (LAFHA) helped with an often weak Australian dollar, and the pathways to permanent residency were welcomed by most once they arrived. The program was integral during the Mining Boom which kept Australia out of a recession amidst a global downturn, and more recently allowed global tech companies to help build their headquarters in Asia-Pac
All sounds pretty good right? So what’s the problem?
The 457 visa has often come under fire for exploitation of foreign workers by paying them far less than what a company would pay an Australian employee. Most recently we have seen this with a number of fast food chains, and for this there is no excuse. However I think a large part of the problem is the 457 Visa has become a vehicle to either;
1) Hire foreign workers in jobs that Australians do not want to do.
2) Hire foreign workers because they are a better workers than Australians.
The SBS show Insight explored this a few years back. The owner of a fitting company in WA praised his 1 and only foreign worker for turning up “on time” and “sober”. Nobody in the room saw that coming however the fact remains that the 457 visa has ended up serving other means than its original purpose.
But has it really been getting in the way of Australians getting Jobs?
The figures released only yesterday show that 457 Visa’s granted were down by thirty three percent on the previous 12 months, and some areas in Queensland experienced a reduction between fifty and seventy percent. Over the past five years (since the Mining Boom) 457 visa grants have reduced by over 50%.
The message on Tuesday was all about “Aussie Jobs, Aussies First,” however it is unlikely that this will be the legacy of the 457 Visa abolishment by the Prime Minister. We will obviously hear more over the next few days with regards to the replacement visa program, skills lists and new labour market testing and training requirements. The outcome hopefully is less exploitation of foreign workers by Australian businesses and this can’t be a bad thing right.