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Changes to 457 Visas Announced

The Australian government yesterday (18th April, 2017) announced an overhaul of the 457 temporary work visa scheme.  The announcement of the proposed changes lacked detail but in essence:

  • The new working visa scheme announced will have two- and four-year categories, and workers will be required to have two years’ relevant experience in the field that they are applying for a visa in, and  criminal record checks will also be required.
  • Employers will need to do labour market testing in Australia before applying to sponsor overseas workers.
  • The four-year category will require applicants to demonstrate English language proficiency;
  • More than 216 occupations have been removed from the list of eligible occupations for temporary work visas.

The list of occupations for which foreign worker visas may be applied for still includes geologists, but now excludes hydrogeologists and geophysicists.  Drillers have also been removed rom the list of eligible professions.

There were 95,758 foreign workers on 457 visas as of September 2016, according to the Department of Immigration.  The majority of visa holders were from India (26.6 per cent), followed by the United Kingdom (16.9 percent) and China (6.1 per cent).

Some 190 457 visas were issued for geologists, geophysicists and hydrogeologists since 2014 based on an analysis of available data by SBS.  A further 117 visas were issued for other natural and physical science professionals and 79 for environmental scientists.

The number of 457 visas issued for geoscientists is estimated to represent about 6% of the number of unemployed geoscientists in Australia today based on there being 8,000 geoscientists in Australia according to the 2011 Census, but not all of whom would be working or seeking work in geosciences, making the 6% estimate likely to be much higher.  The prospect that there are more than 1,100 unemployed geoscientists in Australia questions the need for geologists to remain on the list of occupations for which temporary work visa applications should be considered.  A continued requirement for labour market testing could reasonably be expected to prevent issuing visas to workers to fill roles for which suitable, Australian candidates exist.  The application of labour market testing has, however, been a target for criticism in the past.  In the past few years there has been a marked shift towards employment opportunities being filled through companies identifying candidates through profile searches on LinkedIn and other on-line employment services, or companies’ own databases containing approaches from potential candidates.

One area that could be adversely affected by the proposed changes is issuing of visas to academics and researchers to work at Australian universities and research organisations, including CSIRO, where there are arguments for the benefits of varied background and experience in higher education and the development and commercialisation of new technologies.

The Commonwealth government announcement met with a mixed reaction from industry groups.  It was criticised by immigration lawyers as lacking detail, being implemented abruptly, and for not allowing people to plan.  The IT industry is, by far, the biggest user of the 457 visa program.  A number of IT industry representatives were also critical of the announcement.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils’, the peak body representing migrant communities in Australia, said it would welcome serious attempts to reform the 457 scheme but would wait on more detailed information relating to the program.

The Australian Industry Group (AIG) welcomed the changes, stating that changes to the 457 program would draw the focus back to the program’s primary purpose of addressing the pockets of skill shortages that persist in Australia.

AIG has written to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection on several occasions, criticising the issuing of 457 visas to overseas geoscientists at times of high unemployment in the profession in Australia.  These representations met with the response that all visas were issued only following labour market testing by employers.  The proposed changes How the Department of Immigration and Border Protection intends to apply labour market testing in light of the vastly increased use of on-line employment resources is something that AIG intends to pursue in a broader representation to the Minister and Department using data from the current geoscientist employment survey.

All Australian geoscientists can contribute to this effort by completing the survey by the 28th April closing date.

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