Reforms to the temporary work (skilled) (subclass 457) program

The temporary skilled work (subclass 457) program will be reformed in response to the changing needs of the Australian economy and domestic employment market, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Brendan O’Connor announced this weekend.

The 457 program plays a vital role in ensuring that Australian businesses are able to source the skilled workers they need where they are unable to find suitably skilled labour in the domestic employment market.

It is important, however, that the program settings take account of the needs of employers and that of the Australian domestic labour force.

‘Labor’s first priority is always ensuring jobs for Australian workers, and getting Australians in to work,’ Mr O’Connor said.

‘That’s why we took steps to stimulate our economy when faced with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

‘Australia now has relatively low unemployment [5.4 per cent] compared to other western countries like the US, UK and New Zealand.

‘The government also recognises that in some industries and some regions there are genuine skill shortages that can only be addressed by the use of temporary foreign labour, through the 457 visa program.

‘It has become clear, however, that the growth in the 457 program is out of step with those skills shortages, and the government has evidence that some employers – and I emphasise that word, some – are using 457 visas to discriminate against locals. This cannot continue.

‘Australians deserve the chance to get local jobs on local projects and the government is determined to make that happen.

‘In this context, the government has decided to introduce a set of changes to the 457 program to ensure employers give Australian workers a fair go.’

Under the changes:

  • Employers must demonstrate that they are not nominating positions where a genuine shortage does not exist
  • The English language requirements for certain positions have been raised
  • The enforceability of existing training requirements for businesses that use the program will be strengthened
  • The market salary exemption will rise from $180 000 to $250 000
  • On-hire arrangements of 457 visa workers will be restricted
  • Compliance and enforcement powers will be beefed up to stop employers who have routinely abused the 457 system
  • Stakeholders will be consulted to ensure market rate provisions more effectively protect local employment.

‘We do not want to punish those employers who have genuine skill shortages and who are using 457 visas in the way that the system is intended,’ Mr O’Connor said.

‘But my message to those employers who are either flouting the rules or deliberately overlooking local employees is that the government will not accept these practices.

‘It’s critical that Australians do not miss out on the opportunities that exist in our economy, because of unscrupulous practices of some employers.

‘The government cares about making sure that our systems work and that Australians are getting jobs first. Where we see a problem, we take action.

‘We made substantial changes to the 457 program in 2009 to make it more expensive to recruit overseas workers and to strengthen the infringement regime for businesses that were abusing the system.

‘We will build on those reforms and take further action to ensure that the system is working appropriately and that local workers are not disadvantaged.’

Source: Brendan O’Connor