Australia has always welcomed overseas workers as businesses have experienced a string of vacant positions especially in regional and skilled occupations over the past several years. The Temporary Skilled Worker Visa, which is subclass 457, is the most granted visa in Australia, allowing businesses to open its doors to skilled workers from overseas to fill their skilled workers shortages. However, this may all change with the current changes that passed into law in June and implemented last July 1.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard had spearheaded the crackdown on the 457 visa, with the reason that it was getting "out of control" and there was massive abuse in the system. Gillard's government also made claims that the massive number of 457 visa card holders in the country outstripped the national employment growth by businesses that would rather use cheap labor than paying the standard and required income should their employees be Australians. However, there has been no evidence of abuse and Gillard also came into questioning when it was found out that her communication chief, John McTernan is a Scottish national who has a 457 visa himself. With this revelation, many questioned Gillard's motives on the 457 changes.
The changes on the 457 visa place a greater strain on businesses, especially small businesses who are about to expand. Growing businesses need a lot of skilled workers and they need to fill vacant positions fast. If they can't find Australians to fill these positions, how will they be able to operate when there is shortage in their workers?
The new changes in the 457 visa include showing proof that there is no available Australian worker who can fill the position, thus the need to hire an overseas worker, which will take a lot of time and strain on the employers. Changes have also been made to the visa application fees, where the previous fee was only $455 for the skilled worker, his or her partner, and two children under 18 years of age. Now, the fee has risen to $900 for the worker, another $900 for the partner, and $255 for each child. The premise of the change is that these requirements are implemented to ensure that when a readily available and suitable Australian is available to work, then the employer will choose him over an overseas worker, which will cost him a larger amount of money. But according to Masters Builders Association chief executive Wilhelm Harnish, the 457 visa was never about denying Australian workers of employment but more about filling the immediate needs of skilled workers shortages.
Another issue that has caused controversy and debate is the new law on the children's education of 457 visa holders. Before, they were able to study in Australian public schools for free, but with the new changes, they will have to pay a minimum fee of $4,000 per year. This is a big strain on those workers who are actually on a lower income. According to Western Australian state government treasurer Troy Buswell, the growing number of 457 visa holders with children in the public school system has risen from 290 in 2005 to 8,600 this year, putting a heavy strain on the public school system and the taxpayers. This has also been criticized since 457 visa holders are also taxpayers.
UNICEF spokesperson Tim O'Connor said that Australia actually has an obligation to provide universal primary education to children under their care since they are a signatory of the Convention of the Right of the Child. UNICEF is making an appeal to the government to reconsider having 457 holders pay for their children's education in the public school system.
The changes in the 457 visa have been controversial. Some say that it is beneficial on both the employers and employees, and some say that it is an attack on foreign workers. The new changes have only commenced in July 1, so the world has yet to see the consequences of these new requirements.
Note: Michael Ma is working as migration agent assistant at Move Migration; a migration agent company with expert migration agents Sydney, Australia. They are top quality boutique immigration specialists who have a proven track record of exceptional service.