Are 457 Visas costing Australian geoscientists their jobs?

Australian Institute of Geoscientists > News > Are 457 Visas costing Australian geoscientists their jobs?

The release of the latest AIG Australian Geoscientist Employment Survey results sparked a number of emails and letters from members with accounts of foreign geoscientists working in Australia at a time of high under- and unemployment for geoscientists who are Australian citizens or permanent residents.

Could this be the case?

What is a 457 Visa?

What is commonly referred to as a “457 visa” is more formally known as a Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457).  These visas allow skilled workers to travel to Australia to work in their nominated occupation for their approved sponsor for up to four years.

Applicants must be sponsored by an approved business.

According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, a business can only sponsor someone for this visa if they cannot find an Australian citizen or permanent resident to do the skilled work.  Applicants may be either in Australia or overseas when they lodge their visa application.

Successful applicants:

  • May work in Australia for up to four years.
  • Bring their family to work or study in Australia.
  • Travel in and out of Australia at any time and as often as they want.
  • Must be provided with the same terms and conditions as Australian workers performing the same work in the same workplace.

Sponsors must:

  • Show that they are providing 457 visa holders with equal pay and conditions of employment to Australian workers performing the same work at the same location.
  • Not make deductions from visa holders’ pay (other than tax) without their consent.
  • Only employ visa holders in their approved, skilled occupation.
  • Pay reasonable and necessary travel costs incurred by visa holders to leave Australia if requested by the visa holder, their family or the Department.
  • Not seek to recoup any costs incurred in recruitment from 457 visa holders.
  • Make sure that visa holders do not work for other employers.
  • Not pay visa holders in cash.

Labour Market Testing

Labour market testing (LMT) in the Subclass 457 visa programme commenced on 23 November 2013.  Business sponsors must provide information with any nomination about their attempts to recruit Australian workers and how they have determined on the basis of these attempts that there is no suitably qualified and experienced Australian citizen, Australian permanent resident or eligible temporary visa holder available to fill the position.

LMT does not apply where it would conflict with Australia’s international trade obligations, which include:

  • Nomination of workers who are citizens of Japan, Thailand, Chile, Korea or New Zealand.
  • The nominated worker is a current employee of a business that is an associated entity of the employer in Australia that is located in an ASEAN country, Chile, Japan, Korea or New Zealand.
  • The nominated worker is a current employee of a business or associated entity that operates in a country that is a member of the World Trade Organization and fills an “Executive or Senior Manager” role who will have substantial responsibility for the company’s operations in Australia, or will be involved in establishing an operation in Australia.

There are, however, a number of occupations that are not exempt from LMT.  Relevant occupations to exploration and mining include:

  • Engineering Managers
  • Civil or Geotechnical Engineers
  • Mining Engineers
  • Petroleum Engineers
  • Environmental Engineers

Geoscientists, geologists and geophysicists are notable omissions from this list. LMT should, however, apply for all but senior management roles in which geoscientists may be employed.

A matter of timing?

Many overseas geoscientists were sponsored to work in Australia during the “mining boom” (March 2010 to December 2012) when geoscientist unemployment fell below 5%.  Current 457 visa holders who came to Australia towards the end of the boom may have 12 to 18 months remaining on visas issued for four years at that time.

Unemployment June 2015

What’s happened since then?

If the programme is operating as intended, LMT should prevent all but Executives and Senior Managers in geoscience occupations from entering Australia under the programme.

The accounts that AIG has received suggest that this may not be the case, but how would the Department interpret a 457 visa applicant being described as a “Principal” or “Chief” geoscientist?  It’s clearly not black and white.

What could and should be done?

There have been, and in the future will be times when overseas geoscientists will be needed to work in Australia and the 457 visa programme effectively facilitates this.  There appears, however, a strong case to be made for:

  • Geoscientists (qualified, experienced geologists and geophysicists) being included on the list of occupations that are not exempt from LMT.
  • Ensuring that the skills of 457 visa applicants match the descriptions of positions for which they are sponsored.

The employment survey results appear to be widely accepted as a measure of geoscientist employment.  It’s hard to imagine a case where, with 15% unemployment and 20% under-employment that a suitably qualified and experienced resident geoscientist could not be found to fill roles for which sponsorship of a 457 visa holder is proposed, unless the roles are described as Executive or Senior Manager positions.

AIG could:

  • Write to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (Peter Dutton MP) to request that geoscientists are added to the list of occupations which are not exempt from LMT. On the face of it, this would appear to be a reasonable and moderate request.
  • Encourage members to write to the Minister with a similar request.
  • Demonstrate the need for LMT to always be required for geoscientist roles using the employment survey results.
  • Document the competencies and experience required of geoscientists to fill Executive and Senior Management roles.

What’s your view?  Do you have any suggestions for other approaches to the issue?

Join this discussion via the AIG Linkedin Group or leave a comment on the AIG web site.